Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

An outbreak of reasonableness?

with 5 comments

Amtrak Cascades Mud Bay Surrey BC 08-04-2005 10-28AM

There is a joint press release out today from Washington State DoT and BC’s MoTI

Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Shirley Bond and Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) Secretary Paula Hammond today announced an extension of the second Amtrak Cascades train service between Vancouver and Seattle

The second daily Amtrak Cascades train began service on Aug. 19, 2009 as a pilot project, running through the end of the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. The Canada Border Services Agency has since agreed to extend the provision of border clearance services for the second Amtrak train through the end of September 2010.

So it has been kept going for the summer. At this stage that is not very much progress for an issue that has been going on for far too long already. The problem is that Canada is way behind the rest of the world. Our passenger trains are all dreadfully slow and old fashioned. The rest of the world is investing in High Speed Trains, which for city pairs like Vancouver – Seattle are much better and more efficient than flying or driving. Indeed, this corridor is one that the Obama administration has identified in its HST program. And that has real money attached to it. The problem is that Canada has no such program. Nor is there anyone, apparently, who can influence the Canadian BSA to behave appropriately. If a bus or plane operator decided to increase their cross border service frequency, there would be no problem at all. Its only because trains are treated differently that there is any issue at all. And the sum involved, while significant enough to deter Amtrak from operating a second train across the line (prior to August 19 last year it turned around in Bellingham), it is trivial compared to the benefits of getting people out of cars and planes.

There actually is not much the province or the state of Washington can do. What should be happening is that our MPs – especially the Conservative ones – should be lobbying hard to get the BSA some money from somewhere. So far as I can see that isn’t happening either – or it has and has been totally inadequate.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 23, 2010 at 6:43 pm

Posted in Railway

Tagged with ,

5 Responses

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  1. Good to see that the BC government is taking more of an active interest in this project. So far they’ve done little beyond funding part of the siding in Delta.

    The press release says very little but at least they support it in spirit. The only actual investments are some signs along the various highways to inform motorists of line-up times at the border.

    “Supporting completion of a border circulation analysis study and jointly developing a co-ordinated Cascade Gateway Strategy and priority actions to improve capacity and efficiency of cross-border travel and trade routes.” This quote seems say that they want another Gateway project. In this government’s terms could this mean more highway infrastructure?


    March 23, 2010 at 8:01 pm

  2. Somehow I get the feeling that the Federal Government would be more likely to be behind the HSR line if this was Toronto.

    Now I could be wrong, but history is on my side.


    March 24, 2010 at 2:09 am

  3. I agree with Paul. This is a nice summer extension, but when you book on Amtrak’s site, the train is both more expensive (~$40 one way vs. $35 for the bus) and a longer trip (4h+ vs. 3h30m).

    No wonder they aren’t getting much business.

    A half decent rail upgrade could cut that to under 3h easily, which might make it more of a choice.


    March 24, 2010 at 6:52 am

  4. […] Just one more — Stephen Rees has pointed out that the second daily Amtrak trip to Seattle, which started last August, will be […]

  5. Even if all the political games get settled there are still technical hurdles on this side of the 49th.

    The route on the US side will be upgraded to “higher speed” service rather than true “high speed” which could cut 45 minutes off the trip, but the Canadian side will be a problem as long as the route stays along the South Surrey/White Rock waterfront. The old Great Northern route through Cloverdale suffered from a combination of grade and curve getting around the hill, but was otherwise quite sensible. Unfortunately 100 years of suburban development has pretty much made restoration of that route (with a small adjustment for the hill) impossible.

    Then there’s the 19th century rail bridge across the Fraser with a 19th century speed limit that attempts to serve 5 different railroad companies with a single track. Hopefully it will be replaced by a modern 2 or 3 track bridge in the near future.


    March 25, 2010 at 3:14 pm

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