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Washington state senators approve high-speed rail funding

The state could qualify for $700 million in federal aid if the funding is approved.

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Washington state senators took a step toward establishing a high-speed train system linking Oregon to Canada.

A proposal to put $150 million toward creating a system passed off the Senate floor Tuesday night.

“We have a long ways to go,” said Sen. Marko Liias (D-Edmonds). 

Liias envisions high-speed trains taking riders up and down the Interstate 5 corridor in 2040. But the time to act is now, he said.

“If we don’t start now we’re never going to get there,” Liias said.

Part of his proposed $16 billion transportation package, Senate Bill 5974, includes spending $150 toward a high-speed system linking Portland, Oregon with Vancouver, British Columbia. That funding would qualify the state for $700 million in federal grants, according to Liias.

The potential route would take passengers at speeds topping 200 miles per hour. The ride from Seattle to Portland or Vancouver would be about an hour.

U.S. Representative Marilyn Strickland (D-Washington) encouraged state lawmakers to act to take advantage of federal funding.

“These investments are critical and will create geographic equity for workers, promote economic prosperity, leverage our assets, and make it easier to move people and goods. I encourage state lawmakers to pass this budget so we do not miss out on federal funding to help make high-speed rail in the Pacific Northwest a reality,” Strickland said in a written statement.

Luis Moscoso, government affairs director for All Aboard Washington, a nonprofit train advocacy group, said his organization supports the idea of high-speed rail. However, the state should also improve and expand existing rail systems by applying for additional federal grant funding, he said.

”We can take those rail plans off the shelf and start looking at what the Amtrak Cascades can add in additional service on the I-5 corridor now, as well as expanding service to Eastern Washington, which is left out at the moment,” Moscoso said.

The transportation package heads to the House.