High speed rail in Taiwan
High speed rail in Taiwan (Photo: Dr. Thomas Liptak, reproduced under a Creative Commons license)

Ever­green State vot­ers are sup­port­ive of mak­ing major invest­ments to improve Amtrak Cas­cades inter­ci­ty rail ser­vice as well as build­ing a more expen­sive ultra high speed rail line to con­nect the region’s major met­ro­pol­i­tan hubs, recent polling con­duct­ed for the North­west Pro­gres­sive Insti­tute has found.

62% of vot­ers who par­tic­i­pat­ed in NPI’s Novem­ber 2021 poll of the Wash­ing­ton State elec­torate said they would sup­port updat­ing and imple­ment­ing Amtrak Cas­cades’ Long Range Plan to elec­tri­fy exist­ing inter­ci­ty rail ser­vice at a cost of about $10 bil­lion, while 51% said they would sup­port a long-term project to build a new ultra high speed rail line cost­ing between $24 and $2 billion.

34% of respon­dents said they were opposed to updat­ing and imple­ment­ing Amtrak Cas­cades’ Long Term Plan and 9% are not sure, while 41% said they were opposed to build­ing a new ultra high speed rail line and 8% were not sure.

These find­ings rein­force pre­vi­ous research con­duct­ed by Fair­bank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Asso­ciates (FM3) for the Seat­tle Met­ro­pol­i­tan Cham­ber of Com­merce and oth­er part­ners show­ing that vot­ers want to con­struct high qual­i­ty, high fre­quen­cy inter­ci­ty rail ser­vice to con­nect Cas­ca­di­a’s major cities.

Here’s the ques­tion FM3 asked last sum­mer:

Here is some infor­ma­tion about a project in the Pacif­ic North­west that would cre­ate a Cas­ca­dia high-speed rail sys­tem with trains that trav­el at 250 miles per hour on average.

This would make 1‑hour, direct trips between each major city between Van­cou­ver, British Colum­bia, and Eugene, Ore­gon — with stops in Seat­tle, Taco­ma, Port­land and poten­tial­ly oth­er cities in between. Sta­tions in each city would be locat­ed with easy access to oth­er tran­sit modes and airports.

This pro­pos­al would trans­form our pas­sen­ger rail net­work into a faster, more inte­grat­ed sys­tem that pro­vides a safe, effi­cient, equi­table, and afford­able means of trav­el. Fund­ing would come from fed­er­al infra­struc­ture invest­ment, as well as state and local trans­porta­tion fund­ing sources.

Would you sup­port or oppose this high-speed rail project con­nect­ing cities in the Northwest?

67% (two-thirds) of respon­dents from Wash­ing­ton expressed sup­port for high speed rail after being asked this ques­tion. 60% of Ore­gon­ian respon­dents were also sup­port­ive. Just 27% of respon­dents across the two states indi­cat­ed oppo­si­tion. The total sam­ple con­sist­ed of 1,616 par­tic­i­pants from both states.

After review­ing the very encour­ag­ing results of FM3’s sur­vey, we decid­ed to craft a rig­or­ous fol­low-up ques­tion for our poll sum­ma­riz­ing impor­tant imple­men­ta­tion details as well as describ­ing the end result. While FM3’s ques­tion did not men­tion costs (say­ing only that fund­ing would come from fed­er­al, state, and local sources) our ques­tion includ­ed cost esti­mates. It also not­ed that quite a bit of right of way would have to be acquired in order to lay new tracks.

Here’s the text of our ques­tion and the answers we received:

QUESTION: Wash­ing­ton and Ore­gon are study­ing the pos­si­bil­i­ty of build­ing an ultra high-speed rail line between Van­cou­ver, British Colum­bia and Eugene, Ore­gon cost­ing between $24 and $42 bil­lion that could sup­port trains trav­el­ing at speeds of up to two hun­dred and twen­ty (220) miles per hour. Build­ing the line would require pur­chas­ing a sig­nif­i­cant amount of land to con­struct brand new tracks, but it would allow for faster trips between major Pacif­ic North­west cities. Do you strong­ly sup­port, some­what sup­port, some­what oppose or strong­ly oppose build­ing an ultra high-speed rail line between Van­cou­ver, British Colum­bia and Eugene?


  • Sup­port: 51% 
    • Strong­ly sup­port: 25%
    • Some­what sup­port: 26%
  • Oppose: 41%
    • Some­what oppose: 16%
    • Strong­ly oppose: 25%
  • Not sure: 8%

Notice that even with­out hear­ing the expla­na­tion of the ben­e­fits of high speed rail that FM3 pro­vid­ed in their ques­tion, Wash­ing­to­ni­ans are still supportive.

That’s very reassuring.

It sug­gests that major­i­ty sup­port will still exist for mov­ing for­ward with ultra high speed rail even after the inevitable cost and logis­ti­cal objec­tions are raised.

Those who par­tic­i­pat­ed in our sur­vey saw or heard the ultra high speed rail ques­tion first. Then we asked them about updat­ing and imple­ment­ing the Amtrak Cas­cades Long Range Plan, a relat­ed idea that’s being discussed.

Here’s the text of our ques­tion and the answers:

QUESTION: Do you strong­ly sup­port, some­what sup­port, some­what oppose or strong­ly oppose updat­ing and imple­ment­ing Amtrak Cas­cades’ Long Range Plan to elec­tri­fy exist­ing inter­ci­ty rail ser­vice, allow­ing trains to trav­el at up to one hun­dred and ten (110) miles per hour on exist­ing tracks with loco­mo­tives that do not pol­lute, at an esti­mat­ed cost of about $10 bil­lion in state and fed­er­al funds?


  • Sup­port: 62% 
    • Strong­ly sup­port: 34%
    • Some­what sup­port: 28%
  • Oppose: 28%
    • Some­what oppose: 11%
    • Strong­ly oppose: 17%
  • Not sure: 9%

In this sec­ond ques­tion, the num­ber of not sure respons­es was about the same, but sup­port was high­er and oppo­si­tion was low­er. As in the ultra high speed rail ques­tion, we pro­vid­ed an esti­mat­ed cost for the project.

Our sur­vey of 909 like­ly 2022 Wash­ing­ton State vot­ers was in the field from Wednes­day, Novem­ber 10th through Thurs­day, Novem­ber 11th, 2021.

It uti­lizes a blend­ed method­ol­o­gy, with auto­mat­ed phone calls to land­lines (50%) and text mes­sage answers from cell phone only respon­dents (50%).

The poll was con­duct­ed by Pub­lic Pol­i­cy Polling for the North­west Pro­gres­sive Insti­tute and has a mar­gin of error of +/- 3.3% at the 95% con­fi­dence interval.

More infor­ma­tion about the survey’s method­ol­o­gy is avail­able here.

We at the North­west Pro­gres­sive Insti­tute believe that our region should both invest in bet­ter Amtrak Cas­cades ser­vice as well as a new ultra high speed rail line that can enable peo­ple to trav­el quick­ly between Pacif­ic North­west cities.

Because Cas­cades makes use of tracks that are owned by pri­vate­ly held freight rail­roads such as BNSF Rail­way and Union Pacif­ic (UP), there’s a lim­it to what we can do with Cas­cades ser­vice on the exist­ing cor­ri­dor. Build­ing a brand new line will cer­tain­ly be expen­sive, but it will also be a sound invest­ment that will last. Once we have the right of way, we’ll be able to con­tin­ue invest­ing in it.

Europe and Asia have demon­strat­ed that mod­ern, high speed rail is a pub­lic ser­vice worth hav­ing. Let’s make Amtrak Cas­cades the best it can be as soon as pos­si­ble, while doing the work need­ed to get ultra high speed rail off the draw­ing board and into the nec­es­sary advance and design work phase.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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