Seattle to Portland High Speed Rail

One of China's High Speed Rail Stations

One of China’s High Speed Rail Stations

Currently travel times between the heart of Portland and the heart of Seattle look something like this. Google maps reports driving is 2 hours and 44 minutes. That’s with no traffic congestion. Flying theoretically takes 45 minutes, but that isn’t really to Seattle, it’s to SEATAC, which is nowhere near downtown Seattle. Taking the train takes a mind boggling 4 hours.

But seriously, those times are all a bit deceiving. Because of the unreliable nature of American transportation infrastructure and systems we end up with dramatically different averages. Driving is sometimes as low as 2 hours and 15 minutes, but regularly more than 3 hours if either end has traffic congestion. The train, if you take the Amtrak Cascades takes about 3 hours and 30 minutes, but on some rare occasions it actually makes the trip in 2 hours and 55 minutes when there’s no freight congestion. Flying is a joke if you need to get to the downtown core of Seattle or Portland. Getting to either airport from the city core takes somewhere between 20 minutes to an hour or more for each city. Again, it depends on the traffic and the mode. Using light rail on either end is a 30-35 minute trip to get downtown. So in the best case scenario, with arrival at the airport at least 1 hour before take off we’re talking about a 3 hour trip minimum, if not more. Putting air travel head to head with riding the train. There’s also the bus, which can take a variable amount of time but often similar to driving.

Vision for American High Speed Rail (Click for a great article on American high speed rail)

Vision for American High Speed Rail (Click for a great article on American high speed rail)

Now imagine for a moment if we had real high speed rail service from Union Station to King Street Station in Seattle. At a top speed of 200 mph, with the same stops that are currently in place, the travel time between stations would easily be covered in about an hour an 15 minutes. Maybe plus or minus 10 or 15 minutes. But either way, it would clearly be the fastest way to travel between the cities.

Just think about that type of travel between these cities. Think about what would be possible…

Portland Living, Seattle Jobs

All of a sudden, with a system like that in place it would open up the Seattle job market to thousands of more people in Portland and even introduce the possibility of living in Portland and working in Seattle. That’s a pretty crazy thought when one stops to think about it. A commute from Portland to Seattle would be no more than what a current commute from Tacoma to Seattle is via the Sounder Commuter rail, or some of the express buses from Everett or far eastern Bellevue or Redmond.

Suddenly, Portland would have the possibility of dramatically more business with Seattle, and obviously vice versa. It leaves one with a question of…

Why don’t we have high speed rail between these two cities?

It’s really kind of insane, and is representative of our ongoing paralysis in intelligent economic development between key cities in this country. Portland and Seattle are a prime example of this exact paralysis. The public sector can’t get it done. The private sector isn’t even allowed to touch the notion. It’s pure idiocy all the way down the decision flow.

As I see many people who live in Seattle, who would rather live in Portland, but are stuck living in Seattle because of the better work & career options this high speed rail thought always comes to mind. Also I imagine there are some people that might want to live in Seattle and work in Portland, but probably not. The general crux between these two cities is that Seattle has the good jobs, and Portland has the good life.

Now while you’re thinking that through, just imagine if we really managed to get our act together and include British Columbia and connect Vancouver. We’d effectively move into the realm of a serious powerhouse world class economic region of the world. Livability, jobs, and career options that exceed the rest of North America by many degrees.

I’d wrap up on these thoughts with a simple notion. Let’s kick some serious regional ass and get some high speed rail built. There’s no region we shouldn’t move into the next level in a serious way! It could start with the cities’ mayors getting together to start applying some real pressure on the respective states and nations to get their act together. It’s well past the time we should start building up the Cascadian Region in some serious ways, let’s stop piddling around and make this happen!


  1. I agree that high-speed rail could transform the Pacific Northwest coast for the better, but I think that “Portland Living, Seattle Jobs” is promising too much. Trains with airline speeds are going to have something like airline fares. Only people with very high-paying jobs will be able to commute via high-speed rail. This misconception has been hitched to high-speed rail for decades. Circa 1970, when I was a teenager, one of the oil companies aired TV ads about the future of transportation. I remember only one, which featured a guy saying that France was building a commuter train that would go 180 miles per hour, and if we had that, we could live where we want and work where we want. Except it wasn’t a commuter train, it was the TGV.


    1. Valid point, however, a once a week $200 round trip wouldnt’ be an issue for most software developers, lawyers, etc. However it’d be huge for people because I’d bet you could do a poll and about ~20% of people that live in Seattle that have spent any time in Portland would do the swap – they already do this currently via San Francisco. People work in SF and then come back to Portland to live. I know at least a dozen people personally – so the demand is absolutely there, currently Amtrak Cascades misses that demand because it’s just to cumbersome. It’s easier to do PDX to SFO, and BART it into SF than it is to PDX to SEA and Link or MAX it into Portland or Seattle – and when pay rates are 20-40% more in SF it’s worth spending the 10-15 more minutes on a trip to SF than it is to go either way for the 3 hour flight mess to get to downtown Seattle or downtown Portland. :-/

      Go figure eh! 🙂


  2. Eh…..okay. Is this a Portland based blog? Lol.

    The point of public transportation is to allow for free movement of people in a quick and efficient manner. Not to funnel jobs from Washington to Oregon. That’s a bit ridiculous. This should be a transit system designed to mutually benefit everyone involved. Your Portland homerism is a bit much.


    1. It’s a Cascadian based blog, but why would high speed rail help in the lopsided manner you state? It would be a boon for the whole region.

      It’s not ridiculous, based on history and modern day Europe. But I do digress… it’s the regions loss and that’s a bummer. 😦


  3. The individual who spoke if freedom of movent in a timely safe and efficient manner is right on. Seattle traffic is Soo congested probably because of the road construction whose objective it is to broaden the roads and reduce congestion. I love the idea if rapid transit.if for any reason to be able to be in a different climate in a short period of time. The idea of connecting various cultures quickly is a great benefit too .safety issues concern me though. The other issue is airport security clearance is very time consuming no thanks to radical Islam. This measure of security will probably fit into to rapid transit as well.


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