MOUNT VERNON — A regional transportation planning agency called for an expansion to passenger train service between Seattle and Vancouver, B.C., during a regional rail conference Friday.
The North Sound Transportation Alliance aims to support public transit in Skagit, Whatcom, San Juan, Island and Snohomish counties, according to Melissa Fanucci, principal planner with the Whatcom Council of Governments.
Jason Beloso, manager of planning and strategic assessment with the state Department of Transportation’s Rail Office, said Amtrak currently operates two round-trip trains per day between Seattle and Vancouver.
But according to modeling from his office a third train will soon be needed as population and usage continues to increase, he said.
While the focus of the meeting was on passenger rail, Andrew Johnson, assistant vice president with BNSF Railway, said rail’s impact on transporting cargo needs to be protected going forward.
“Every time a (freight) train goes by, that’s 280 trucks taken off the freeway,” Johnson said. “We all have an interest in rail vitality.”
He said any plan to expand passenger routes needs to make sure freight’s access to rail be protected.
BNSF plans to invest $175 million this year in Washington, most of which goes toward maintenance of the state’s rail network, he said.
Beloso also spoke about the possibility of a high-speed rail line from Portland to Vancouver.
These trains can travel at up to 250 mph but take time to get to that speed, which Beloso said would mean the number of stops would be limited to between three and seven. Regional public transit would have to supplement the high-speed rail, he said.
Beloso said his office has been studying a high-speed rail line since 2017, when the state Legislature authorized a $350,000 feasibility study.
“The answer was ‘yes, but we need to take a closer look,’” he said.
Rail, unlike airports, can take riders right into a downtown area, he said. However, building in dense urban centers brings additional cost. These are the kinds of trade-offs Beloso said need to be studied.