Blog Back on Track: Amtrak Service to Continue to Vancouver

Passenger rail advocates from Eugene, Ore., to Vancouver, B.C., are praising the news this afternoon that the Canadian federal government has agreed to pay the border fee costs needed to keep a second Amtrak Cascades train running between Seattle and Vancouver. Until late this afternoon, it appeared that the second train, originally started as a pilot program in conjunction with the Winter Olympics, would be canceled.

As reported in The Vancouver Sun, “the Canada Border Service Agency…notified Amtrak it planned to begin charging the company $1,500 a day starting Nov. 1.” That wasn’t a fee that Amtrak was willing to pay.

Time had been running out for one of the two daily trains connecting
Vancouver and Seattle, as Washington state officials said they would
begin shutting down the service Monday if they couldn’t reach a deal on
border fees with the Canadian government.

The second train service is seen by many rail advocates, including Cascadia Center, as an important piece of the long-term effort to bring increased high-speed rail (HSR) service to the Cascadia Corridor, running from Oregon to British Columbia. On its own, the second train, which studies show brings nearly $12 million in annual economic benefit to British Columbia, is important. But its success also reflects the region’s unified commitment and capacity for collaborating across state, regional and national lines to bring HSR to the Northwest.

When it was announced several weeks ago that the Canada Border Service Agency wouldn’t pay the annual customs costs to clear passengers on the train, the region’s leaders, including Governor Christine Gregoire, Premier Gordon Campbell, and Washington State Department of Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond quickly united to voice their concern.

Additionally, mayors throughout the corridor signed and delivered a letter to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper expressing their collective view that the second Amtrak Cascades service should continue. The letter–released by a coalition consisting of Cascadia Center, PNWER and many others–made clear the need for the service to continue. In it, the mayors (including Sam Adams of Portland, Gregor Robertson of Vancouver and Mike McGinn of Seattle) wrote:

We, the undersigned mayors, write today to express our strong support for the long-term continuation of the second Amtrak Cascades train….This service has been a success due to nearly $1 billion in long term investment by governments — provincial, state and local — from Vancouver, B.C. to Eugene, Ore. These investments have benefited our businesses through increased freight capacity on the corridor, lower cost transportation costs and improved passenger mobility.

But even with strong, unified regional pressure, extension of the service for another year required the involvement of some of the highest levels in both the U.S. and Canadian governments. Canada’s Globe and Mail reports that today’s decision “comes after personal intervention from U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who argued for continued subsidies.”

Though only a one year extension, this is a victory for the region and for passenger rail. And advocates of the second train and of increased HSR service in the Northwest probably won’t care who gets the credit for helping save this important bi-national service. This much is clear, however: From localities to federal governments, it took a cascade of support to save the Cascades

Editor’s Note: PNWER has maintained a list of news coverage (with links) on the second train issue. For a comprehensive overview, go here.