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Wash., Ore. to get almost $600M for high-speed rail

WASHINGTON — Washington and Oregon are in line to receive nearly $600 million for a high-speed rail line from Seattle to Portland, Ore., and other improvements.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said the projects will increase the number of Amtrak passenger trains between the Northwest’s two biggest cities, as well as reduce rail congestion and improve on-time reliability. The bulk of the money — $590 million — will go to Washington state for projects related to high-speed rail. Another $8 million will go to Oregon for improvements at the city’s Union Station.

President Barack Obama plans to announce $8 billion in grants for 13 major corridors — including the Northwest — during a town hall meeting Thursday in Tampa, Fla., his first public appearance following his State of the Union speech Wednesday night.

Murray, a Democrat who chairs the Senate panel that funds transportation, called the grant announcement “a big win” for the region. The high-speed rail line will help create new jobs, improve passenger and freight travel and benefit the environment, she said.

“Anybody who travels the I-5 corridor in our state knows that we need to find new, efficient options to get commuters and commerce moving. And anybody interested in boosting our state’s economy knows that now is a great time to take action,” Murray said.

The grant announcement fulfills a longtime request by officials in Washington and Oregon to build faster rail service along the Cascade Corridor, she said

Both states have cooperated since the early 1990’s to study, define, and build a high-speed rail line along a corridor from Eugene, Ore., to Vancouver, B.C., Murray said. Both states have bought trains capable of speeds up to 125 mph and have improved track and signal systems, refurbished rail stations and increased operating funds.

Even so, Amtrak’s Cascade trains are still limited to 79 mph due to needed safety and freight traffic improvements on the line, Murray said.

The grant to be announced Thursday would increase the number of daily roundtrips between Portland and Seattle to six, up from four currently, officials said.

The Washington Department of Transportation applied for up to $1 billion in grants last year for a host of upgrades to tracks and facilities in Blaine, Everett, Seattle, Kalama and Vancouver, Wash.