Pacific Northwest Corridor

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Corridor as designated by the Federal Railroad Administration

The Pacific Northwest Corridor or the Pacific Northwest Rail Corridor (PNWRC) is one of eleven federally designated high-speed rail corridors in the United States.[1] The 466-mile (750 km) corridor extends from Eugene, Oregon to Vancouver, British Columbia via Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington. It was designated a high-speed rail corridor on October 20, 1992, as the fifth of five corridors called for in the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA).[2] The corridor is owned by BNSF Railway in Washington and British Columbia, and by Union Pacific Railroad (UP) in Oregon,[3] and is used by a mix of freight and passenger trains operated by BNSF, UP, and Amtrak. If improvements to the corridor are completed as proposed in Washington State's long range plan, passenger trains operating at a maximum speed of 110 miles per hour (180 km/h) would travel between Portland and Seattle, in 2 hours and 30 minutes, and between Seattle and Vancouver in 2 hours and 37 minutes by 2023.[4]

The Pacific Northwest Corridor is a proposed railway that would run from Eugene, Oregon to Vancouver, British Columbia and connect those cities along with Salem/Portland, Vancouver WA/Olympia/Tacoma/Seattle/Everett, and Bellingham, Washington.[5]

In 2017, the Washington State Legislature budgeted $300,000 for a study of "Ultra High Speed ground transportation" (meaning speeds of 250 miles per hour or more) along the Vancouver, BC to Portland corridor.[6]

Current passenger service[edit]

The Pacific Northwest Rail corridor is used by several Amtrak and local commuter rail services. Amtrak operates Amtrak Cascades over the length of the corridor, the Coast Starlight from Seattle southward, and for short segments, the Empire Builder. BNSF Railway operates Sounder commuter rail for Sound Transit between Seattle and Tacoma, Washington, and Seattle and Everett, Washington. The Rocky Mountaineer operates seasonal service between Seattle and Vancouver.

Development Impacts[edit]


It is just over 100 miles from Eugene, Oregon to Portland, Oregon. This stretch is called the "Oregon 100-Mile Corridor". Based on 2010 US Census Bureau data, the bulk of the state's population lives within a 25-mile radius around this corridor.


Early development (1864 - 1914)[edit]


What became the Pacific Northwest Corridor was developed piecemeal fashion over the course of many years by several railroad companies, predecessors to today's freight railway companies. The prospect of rail development along the route in Oregon began in earnest with an act of Congress in 1866 granting land to a then unnamed railway that would traverse the length of Willamette Valley south from Portland to the California state line.[7] A railway company that would later become Ben Holladay's Oregon Central Railroad (the East Side or Salem Oregon Central Railroad) began laying track on the east side of the Willamette River in East Portland, Oregon in April 1868. This railroad reorganized as the Oregon and California Railroad and was completed as far south as Roseburg, Oregon by December 1872.[8] In 1887 the Oregon and California was purchased by the Southern Pacific Railroad which in turn was absorbed by the Union Pacific Railroad in 1996.[9][10]


Extent of Northern Pacific Railway in Western Washington, c. 1900.

The possibility of rail development along portions of the corridor route in Washington gained prominence when Abraham Lincoln signed the Northern Pacific Charter in 1864 establishing the Northern Pacific Railway with the charge of constructing a rail connection between the Great Lakes and Puget Sound.[11] Work on the first section of the railway's right-of-way in Washington Territory began at Kalama in 1870.[12] In 1873 the Northern Pacific announced that Tacoma, Washington would be the railroad's terminus on Puget Sound,[13] and scheduled service began on what was known as the Pacific Division between Kalama and Tacoma in January 1874 via Tenino, Washington and the Prairie Line.[14]

In 1908, with completion of the Columbia River bridge at Vancouver, Washington by the Portland and Seattle Railroad Company,[15] an all rail connection was made between Seattle and Portland, eliminating the need for a ferry crossing of the Columbia River between Goble, Oregon and Kalama.[16]

Northern Pacific opened the water level Point Defiance route between Tenino and Tacoma via the Nelson Bennett tunnel in December 1914.[17] A six-mile portion of this new route between Tenino and Plumb, Washington was purchased as part of the Northern Pacific's acquisition of the Port Townsend Southern Railroad's Southern Division earlier that same year.[14][18]

In October 1891 the James J. Hill owned Seattle and Montana Railroad completed a route between Seattle and Brownsville, British Columbia, across the Fraser River from New Westminster when rails of that line met south of Stanwood, Washington.[19] A portion of this original route which incorporated the right-of-way of the Fairhaven and Southern Railroad between Belfast, Washington and Fairhaven, Washington was replaced with the newly constructed water-level Chuckanut Cut-off between Belleville, 3 miles (4.8 km) north of present-day Burlington, and Fairhaven by the Great Northern Railway company in 1902.[20]

From its completion in 1891, the Seattle and Montana had a route that left Interbay Yard in Seattle, and crossed to Ballard, Washington via a wooden trestle. But the construction of the Lake Washington Ship Canal during the 1910s required a re-routing of the railway through a new cut northwest from Interbay and over Salmon Bay via a new bridge that could accommodate ship traffic. Construction on the Salmon Bay Bridge began in 1912 and was completed in 1914 at a cost of greater than US$1,000,000.[21]

British Columbia[edit]

The New Westminster Southern Railway was completed from Brownsville to the border at Blaine, Washington using a right-of-way that followed the Fraser River upstream to Port Kells and then running south through Cloverdale and Hazelmere to the border. The successor to the New Westminster Southern, the Great Northern Railway gained access to Vancouver with the completion of the New Westminster Bridge across the Fraser River in 1904. The Great Northern opened a new coastal route from Brownsville to the border at Blaine via Colebrook and White Rock in 1909 that would supplant the former route.[22]


Improved rail linkages along the Pacific Northwest cities would provide an improved alternative to car and air travel along the route. Ancillary benefits include a reduction in road congestion, reduced travel emissions, and improved business productivity as travel becomes cheaper, faster, and more convenient. Building a separated high speed rail corridor would also increase freight capacity, although this idea is not currently being acted on. Proponents of the Pacific Northwest Corridor also believe that it would help the three international airports in Vancouver, Seattle and Portland operate more efficiently and collaboratively, improve international trade and promote tourism.[23]


Current investment in passenger rail in the Pacific Northwest Corridor will not be used to create a dedicated high speed passenger rail corridor from the ground up, but will instead create more modest systematic improvements to the existing railway used by the Amtrak Cascades line that uses trackage owned primarily by private freight railways. On January 27, 2010 the federal government announced $590 million of ARRA stimulus funds will go to Washington State for high speed improvements of its section of the corridor. Additionally, the state of Oregon will receive $8 million to improve Portland's Union Station and trackways in the area.[24] On December 9, 2010 US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced that Washington State will receive an additional $161 million in federal high-speed rail funding from the Federal Rail Administration after newly elected governors in both Wisconsin and Ohio turned down their states' high-speed rail funding. This brings Washington's total funding to about $782 million.[25] These investments funded the construction of the Point Defiance Bypass, which will reduce travel times and enable the addition of two extra trips in the Seattle-Portland Amtrak Cascades corridor daily.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Previous HSR Corridor Descriptions". Federal Railroad Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation. Retrieved February 27, 2011. 
  2. ^ "Chronology of High-Speed Rail Corridors". Federal Railroad Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation. Retrieved February 27, 2011. 
  3. ^ "Washington State Amtrak Cascades Mid-Range Plan" (PDF). Washington State Department of Transportation State Rail and Marine Office. December 2008. pp. 2–3. Retrieved February 28, 2011. 
  4. ^ "Washington State Long-Range Plan for Amtrak Cascades" (PDF). Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT). February 2006. pp. 5–29. Retrieved February 27, 2011. 
  5. ^ Perkins, Brad (February 26, 2009). "Cascadia high-speed rail: It's time". The Oregonian. 
  6. ^ Banse, Tom (2017-07-26). "By Bullet Train From Portland To Seattle To Vancouver, BC? Feasibility Study Underway". KUOW. Retrieved 2017-08-03. 
  7. ^ Sanger, George P. (Ed.) (1868), Statutes at Large, Treaties and Proclamations, of the United States of America from December 1865 to March 1867, XIV, Boston: Little, Brown and Company, p. 239, retrieved 2011-03-05  (14 Stat. at L., p. 239)
  8. ^ Carey, Charles Henry (1922), History of Oregon, Portland: The Pioneer Historical Publishing Company, pp. 685–695, retrieved 2011-03-05 
  9. ^ Robertson, James R. (March 1902). "The Social Evolution of Oregon". The Quarterly of the Oregon Historical Society. Salem, Oregon: Oregon Historical Society. III (1): 26. Retrieved 2011-03-05. 
  10. ^ Union Pacific /Southern Pacific Merger, 1 S.T.B. 233 (1996). (Decision No. 44)
  11. ^ "Washington State Amtrak Cascades Mid-Range Plan" (PDF). Washington State Department of Transportation State Rail and Marine Office. December 2008. pp. 2–1. Retrieved March 5, 2011. 
  12. ^ Schwantes, Carlos A. (1993). Railroad Signatures across the Pacific Northwest. Seattle: University of Washington Press. pp. 52–53. ISBN 0-295-97535-0. 
  13. ^ MacIntosh, Heather M.; Wilma, David (February 22, 1999), Northern Pacific Railroad announces Tacoma terminus on July 14, 1873,, Essay 922, retrieved 2011-03-06 
  14. ^ a b History of the Northern Pacific Prairie Line, retrieved 2011-03-06 
  15. ^ Baltimore, J. Mayne (June 1908), "Western Railroad Activities", Locomotive Fireman and Enginemen's Magazine, Indianapolis, Indiana: Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen and Enginemen, 44 (6): 809, retrieved 2010-03-06 
  16. ^ Cities, Counties & Corporations - Cowlitz County, Washington Secretary of State, retrieved 2010-03-06 
  17. ^ "Officials Look Over New Road", The Tacoma Times, Tacoma, XI (296), p. 8, December 1, 1914, retrieved 2011-03-06 
  18. ^ Poor's and Moodys manual consolidated (Moody's Manual of Railroads and Corporation Securities), I, New York: Moody Manual Company, 1915, p. 653, retrieved 2011-03-06 
  19. ^ Prasse, Karen (September 13, 2008), Railroad between Seattle and British Columbia is completed near Stanwood on October 12, 1891,, Essay 8688, retrieved 2011-03-13 
  20. ^ Bourasaw, Noel V. (Ed.) (2005), Paul Dorpat's photo book series, Part One: Chuckanut Drive, Interurban, Great Northern, Skagit River Journal, retrieved 2011-03-13 
  21. ^ Pierce, Greg (December 14, 1998), The Great Northern's Bridge at the Locks, retrieved 2011-03-13 
  22. ^ Roughley, Neil, Great Northern Railway in British Columbia's Fraser Valley, retrieved 2011-03-13 
  23. ^ Simmonds, R. (2001). Global City Regions: Their Emerging Forms. Routledge. pp. 130–133. ISBN 0-419-23240-0. 
  24. ^ "Washington to get $590 million for high-speed rail improvements" Seattle Times retrieved 2010-01-28
  25. ^ "Washington state awarded additional federal high-speed rail funds" Washington State Department of Transportation retrieved 2010-12-09

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