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 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.
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.