Washington eyes CIB support for Portland-Vancouver rail

A study by the state’s transportation department said the $24bn high-speed project met most of Canada Infrastructure Bank’s funding criteria.

A proposed rail project running from Vancouver to the northwest US meets the criteria for funding from the Canada Infrastructure Bank, according to a study from the Washington State Department of Transportation.

The project would build a high-speed rail line between Vancouver and Portland, Oregon in an area known as the Cascadia megaregion. The plan has been discussed for more than a decade, with an estimated price tag of $24 billion-$42 billion.

The study, commissioned by the Washington State government, examined the public-private partnership model as a potential funding and financing solution. Along with the CIB, it explored US federal financing programmes including TIFIA and TIGER grants.

The nascent Canada Infrastructure Bank, a C$35 billion ($28.02 billion; €23.21 billion) institution launched last year, aims to invest in large, transformative projects capable of bringing private sector support. The study notes that the Cascadia project, known as the Ultra-High-Speed Ground Transportation proposal, meets most the CIB’s criteria, though its ability to deliver a return and attract private sector capital requires further investigation.

The CIB did not respond to a request for comment. But Benjamin Dachis, a researcher at the Toronto-based CD Howe Institute, told Infrastructure Investor that the UHSGT project would likely merit consideration once the bank is fully up and running.

“It can be transformational. This could be a very big deal if you live in the Pacific Northwest,” Dachis said.

The challenge, he added, will be to present a viable business model with a revenue source.

“It is really about making sure that there is a strong business case for these kinds of projects,” Dachis noted. “The infrastructure bank will only invest if there is a solid business plan.”

While the CIB was officially established last year, the bank is currently searching for a permanent chief executive.