When’s the first time you traveled by train?
For me, I was in the second grade in Mrs. Boes’ class at Adna Elementary. We took a field trip on the train (Amtrak) to Point Defiance Zoo in Tacoma. Never before had I been able to move about freely — or been served a meal restaurant-style — all while traveling. It left a strong impression on me as a kid.
Since then, I’ve taken many trips on the rail — Portland, Seattle, Wenatchee, Everett, and everywhere in between. Today, I enjoy rail travel from Centralia regionally as a business professional and for family trips with my husband and two boys, who happen to be (what I affectionately call) “train heads.”
So, my interest was piqued this week when I saw an article from the Everett Herald shared on Facebook by one of the many state “train news” (yeah, that’s a real niche news market) outlets I follow. The article detailed the Washington State Department of Transportation’s newest and recently released high-speed rail proposal — a new rail line running from Portland, Oregon to Vancouver, B.C.
The $42 billion dollar project would be expected to break ground within the next decade, is estimated to have 20 to 30 trips between Oregon and Canada daily at speeds up to 220 mph, with up to an estimated 3 million passengers projected each year.
“It’s really like building another I-5, only one that is faster, more reliable, safer and more environmentally friendly,” said Janet Matkin, a spokesperson for WSDOT.
It’s also noted that it’s believed that this high-speed rail option would be more cost-effective than adding another lane of Interstate 5 through Washington State.
According to the Herald’s coverage: “To achieve the high speeds, the all-electric project would run on its own track, both elevated and underground, and have no at-grade road crossings.”
Now, WSDOT has presented three options so far to accomplish this project — all of them have high-speed rail mapped to go through Centralia and Chehalis.
So, will they tunnel along Interstate 5 near us? Or, would this project be the one that brings a train track back to the Twin Cities skyline? If I’m not mistaken, the old trolley that used to run through Centralia used to have an elevated track near downtown Centralia (but that’s another column).
Here’s the other thing that got me, too — none of the options presented by WSDOT thus far have high-speed rail slated to actually stop in Centralia.
This bums me out for a couple of reasons: First, obviously, I want to take advantage of high-speed rail if it happens. But secondly, what a loss for Centralia and Lewis County — one that I think might be worth challenging.
You see, I never realized just how many people come through Centralia via rail until I was the marketing director for the Centralia-Chehalis Chamber of Commerce years ago. It’s pretty incredible how many people step off the train in Centralia and spend time downtown. I’d be curious to see updated tourism numbers for today.
And, guess what the longest stretch of the proposed rail plan is without a stop? Yep, that’s right: The stretch between planned stops at Kelso and Olympia — over 66 miles without a stop. Again, the longest non-stop stretch along the whole route.
I would still take a traditional Amtrak to Olympia to board high-speed rail if I was traveling to Canada. But I just wonder what a high-speed rail stop would do for Centralia as far as tourism goes — ”heads in beds” (hotel / motel tax dollars) and the like.
McMenamins Olympic Club already does a great job of bringing many regional tourists to Centralia for overnight and weekend stays.
Now, I haven’t seen the actual numbers. And, I don’t know if it’s all set in stone at this point. But, I write about this in case our city and county officials missed the news — what do you think? Can Centralia and Lewis County still capitalize on high-speed rail? Can we lobby for a stop? Were there guidelines that precluded us? I’m so curious.
At any rate, this is a project I’ll be following closely. It could bring big impacts to our area no matter what the final decision ultimately is.
Brittany Voie is a columnist for The Chronicle. She lives south of Chehalis with her husband and two young sons. She welcomes correspondence from the community at firstname.lastname@example.org.