The Seattle Times reports that the Canadian government has dropped its insistence Amtrak pay $1,500 per day for immigration and customs inspections for passengers on a planned second daily train between Seattle and Vancouver. As a result, service will expand next month, and continue on at least through the 2010 Winter Olympics and paralympics in Vancouver. Over-time, cross-border trade and tourism supporters have previously said, up to four daily Seattle-Vancouver trains would be feasible. The second daily train will allow same day round-trips on Amtrak between Seattle and Vancouver’s Pacific Central Station (pictured above) and will speed travel times on the Portland to Vancouver route, as well. Vancouver Sun columnist Miro Cernetig reported earlier on studies showing an additional $1.87 million (C$) in additional annual tax revenues north of the border from the second daily passenger train and an additional $16-33 million in annual economic activity. The Times:
Bruce Agnew, policy director at the Discovery Institute’s Cascadia Center, a think tank that studies transportation issues…said that Canadian officials are viewing the second daily route as a pilot project that Public Safety Canada will reevaluate after the Olympics to determine whether it is popular enough to be continued. Agnew is confident that the second daily service, which is to run later in the day, will have high ridership numbers because the route offers service from Portland and Seattle to Vancouver.
Cascadia Center has worked closely with the Washington State Department of Transportation, the Pacific Northwest Economic Region, The Border Policy Research Institute at Western Washington University, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson and other allies to win approval of the increased frequency.
In March, 2007, the British Columbia government agreed to share in the costs of building a second rail siding near Surrey, south of Vancouver, to facilitate the second daily trip. Cascadia Center in this Vancouver Sun op-ed applauded that decision to proceed, and continued its behind-the-scenes networking on the initiative. The siding work was completed in the summer of 2008. But until the Friday July 3, 2009 announcement, the Canadian Border Services Agency had insisted Amtrak foot the daily cost of immigration and customs inspections, though no such arrangement exists for the current Seattle-Vancouver service. A cross-border coalition of political, non-profit and business leaders urged a broader view in a letter on the matter in late April to Canadian Public Safety Minister Peter van Loan, who announced the approval last week.
Increased daily trips are one piece of the puzzle. Further improvements to inter-city rail in Cascadia – paid for with U.S. federal stimulus dollars, additional U.S. funds in subsequent years, and money from Ottawa, the state of Washington and the province of British Columbia – could boost passenger train average speeds and reduce travel times in the corridor. A long-term goal is totally separate tracks for freight rail and passenger rail, so that both can function more smoothly.