Stephen Rees's blog

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

2nd daily Amtrak train to B.C. about to be canceled

with 6 comments

Seattle Times

The Washington State Department of Transportation announced Monday that it and members of Congress will be holding discussions with British Columbia officials after Canada decided last week to impose border fees that would force the cancellation of the second daily Amtrak Cascades train to Vancouver, B.C.

The Canadian federal government said late last week it would require the state’s transportation department to pay nearly $550,000 a year for border-clearance services, according to a WSDOT news release. The money would cover additional staffing for the Canada Border Services Agency.

“British Columbia and Washington are so disappointed by this news,” said Paula Hammond, Washington transportation secretary, in the news release. “The economic benefits for Vancouver and Washington are clear as travelers shop, eat and stay in local hotels. The second train has brought an estimated $11.8 million in economic benefits to British Columbia during the year it has been allowed to operate.”

This should not be hapenning. But then we are talking about a Conservative government. The one that wants to scrap the long gun registry that its own police force tells it is saving lives. The one that wants to spend more money on prisons when crime has been in steady decline. The one that wants to buy stealth bombers even though it says we “cannot afford” all kinds of other services that Canadians actually value. The one that claims to be about free trade and economic growth, but cannot understand the simple math that says for $0.55m you get an extra $11.8m.

Other places order these things better. Across Europe, where they actually understand the concept of a open trade across borders, most land boundaries between countries are inspection free. You can just drive across – or ride through on a train. No-one comes down the corridors now demanding your papers. We could, you might have thought, accept that people who are in the US probably do not pose much of a threat – and anyway since we are supposed to be part of the same North American Free Trade area we would not be trying to levy taxes and duties on goods brought in from there. But we do of course. And we need to keep up our border security mostly because our common causes – like the War on Drugs – have been egregious failures.  We send lots of pot south, they send us guns and hard drugs in return.  The US, of course, also thinks it needs to protect itself from us and our propensity for bringing Washington apples with us to munch on the journey – but it does not charge us for the privilege of being harrassed and inspected.

It is being suggested that we might like to write to the PM. will get an email to his office. I think they count them, even if they don’t actually read them. It can’t hurt. It probably won’t change their minds either because they are clearly not open to rational arguments. Most of the people who want to get into Vancouver late in the evening are probably Canadians – but that is not based on any objective data – just my own observation that when I go to the US I leave here in the morning and get back in the evening –  no matter how long my trip. Your mileage may vary.

Written by Stephen Rees

September 21, 2010 at 1:36 pm

Posted in Railway

Tagged with ,

6 Responses

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  1. Especially in a minority government, they do count emails. That is likely one of the big reasons why the feds funded border services over the last year. $550,000 a year is relatively inexpensive way for them to show support for rail. They really should be doing a lot more, including funding track improvements along the corridor.

    The US Government for example funding over a half a billion dollars worth of improvements from Seattle to Portland. Lack of interest on the Canadian side meant that the section from Seattle to the border pretty much got no investment. With Obama pushing for tens of billions more for passenger rail, now is the time for the province and the feds to step up to the plate.

    With the Patullo Bridge upgrade being planned, now is also a great time to encourage a new rail crossing of the Fraser by New West to be integrated into the design. The current bridge is 100 years old and is a serious constraint to improved and faster rail in the region.

    In addition to emailing Harper


    September 21, 2010 at 5:28 pm

  2. Looks like the Provincial Government is pressing hard as well.

    Worthwhile copying the Transportation Minister on the email as well:


    September 21, 2010 at 5:33 pm

  3. Actually some money did get spent on the Canadian side in order to make the second train workable. A passing track was added at the point where the BC Rail port subdivision (the only bit left in provincial hands at the time) crosses the BNSF line on the shore of Boundary Bay. Federal neglect of passenger rail has been the history on both sides of the border for many years and over many administrations.

    Stephen Rees

    September 21, 2010 at 5:38 pm

  4. Hard to understand the federal government reasoning! one would think that boosting tourism would be a laudable goal. But then too many Canadian politicians aren’t great on city transit and trains.

    It would be interesting to find out what the French and the Brits do–money wise– re custom checks on the Eurostar (the checks themselves are fairly quick).

    I have been asked several times these past months by very average looking US tourists (Mom, Dad and kids) how to go from…to the Granville Island tramway. They were sorry to find out it was long gone.

    I read a couple of weeks ago that several Surrey councillors will go to Portland anytime now to check their LRT system. On a hunch I wrote Mayor Watts to ask if the councillors would stop in Seattle to check THEIR LRT. If only becausue it has interesting features.

    I just got the answer..not it wasn’t planned and, as the itinerary is already set, stopping in Seattle isn’t possible…are they FLYING to Portland or driving? More likely this means that they had not heard about Seattle LRT.

    Red frog

    September 22, 2010 at 11:30 am

  5. Yes, there was between $5 million and $10 million spent on the Canadian side but it is truly peanuts compared to the hundreds of millions spent on the American side. It was only done after years of pleading and was not taken advantage of for at least a year due to same reluctance of the Canadian government to waive the border fees.


    September 22, 2010 at 12:12 pm

  6. I suspect that the issue isn’t just $550,000 for one daily trip by the Cascades train – I suspect that the issue is the precedent that it would set for the Maple Leaf train from Toronto to New York and the Adirondack train from Montreal to New York.


    September 22, 2010 at 3:44 pm

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