Stephen Rees's blog

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

Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak

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

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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

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An outbreak of reasonableness?

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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

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Friday round up

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re:palce magazine regularly links to my stories but I have not really paid a lot of attention in return. So I am pleased to draw attention to a post called “Pedestrians need their share of the road” written by Jay Ameresekere and posted yesterday. It is inspired by an article in The State of Vancouver titled Vancouver needs a pedestrian advocate says SFU professor. Anthony Perl takes the City to task for taking pedestrian space for cyclists. What  I think is missing from the analysis in re:place is a reference to pedestrians in the rest of the region. The City of Vancouver covers a small part of the area and only a quarter of the citizens, and pedestrians get ignored in most of the suburbs.

I am on the cover of the Richmond Review this morning, banging on about the forced transfer to the Canada Line again. But what caught my eye was this gem from Ken Hardie

He also said revenue from new Canada Line riders plus the savings from running fewer buses will be enough to cover its payments.

I added the emphasis since it is the first time that I have seen a public admission from Translink that cuts to the bus fleet were part of the strategy. Of course I have been saying that all along – and so have the CAW in their recent campaign. But the public stance of the cheer leaders has always been that bus service would now be so much better since the Canada Line would free up resources to be moved elsewhere. That’s true to some extent, but the impression given was that it would be 100% switched when it is now admitted to be less than that – and probably quite a lot less. Though you would probably have to be an insider to get access to the data to prove that contention. Just like Hardie could not say exactly what the subsidy payments to InTransitBC are going to be. It’s public money they are spending so sooner or later it will be found out: just not while we are celebrating, eh?

If you enjoyed the celebrations – or missed them – the Buzzer has more photos of the opening day. They, naturally, don’t link here or to my flickr stream but over 50 people did take a gander at my pictures, even if they were of the second day. There is also an effort by transit geeks to record the last few days remaining of express suburban service in Vancouver. If you have a digital camera or camera phone  there are still a few routes not represented at the time of writing.

The CBC notes the decline of US tourists to BC, which takes the shine off the new second Amtrak train – which now runs to Portland not just Seattle. (This had been a running story here for some time) They also record cuts to Greyhound bus services, which will hit some small BC communities hard: I had mentioned Greyhound in my recent piece on not competing with commercial services, but it may soon be needed that some public provision is needed to keep up basic connections. Not that there will any money to do that of course.

And one story I missed, the keeps cropping upon this blog is the “Fareless Square” in Portland OR, which many people want duplicated here. It has now been partially cancelled for bus riders – due to fare evasion they say. Part of a wide swathe of transit service cuts and fare hikes across the US

Written by Stephen Rees

August 21, 2009 at 10:37 am

Update on Cascades second train

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The Vancouver Sun is now reporting that a second train may be added for the Olympic period. But really there is no resolution to the fundamental problem of the Canadian Border Services Agency trying to collect $0.5m in annual extra revenue from  Amtrak, which makes the second train unecomic to operate. They are “still talking” – which just shows that our federal politicians are simply ducking the issue.

Amtrak 134 Cascades Vancouver BC 2006_0731

Written by Stephen Rees

April 2, 2009 at 6:58 pm

Posted in Railway

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Upcoming talks could lead to 2nd Amtrak run to B.C.

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Seattle Times

Just a short update on a story covered here more than once.

Officials from Washington’s DOT and Canadian customs will meet in Canada in two or three weeks to discuss the issue.

It is all very vague. What the story does not say is that if an airline already operating between YVR and Seattle were to add an extra flight to an existing service it would not be asked pay this fee. For reasons known only to the Canadian bureaucrats, an extra train is a “new service” but an extra plane or bus is not.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 7, 2009 at 9:49 pm

Posted in Railway

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New Seattle-Vancouver train delayed by CBSA cash grab?

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Transport 2000 in Ottawa puts out a web based news service and the following story is copied entire

I have nothing further to add

According to Jon Calon, Transport 2000 Western Newsletter editor: “It is a sad thing” the (passing) siding near Colebrook Road that was paid for out of funding from the government (and) has been installed quite some time ago … still does not host the second Seattle – Vancouver Amtrak train.”

This week Vickie Sheehan of Washington DoT, the train’s sponsor, told Transport 2000: “At this time we do not have a firm date on the start of the second train service to Vancouver, BC. We are still awaiting clearance from the CANADIAN BORDER SECURITY AGENCY (emphasis added) and until this issue is resolved, our second train service is delayed”.

Further probing led to the discovery that the CBSA views the second train as a “new facility” and demands to be paid for screening its passengers. Pearson and Vancouver International Airports are grandfathered, new flights (facilities) attract no new bills. The treatment of the second Amtrak train is a case of modal discrimination with the State of Washington being held up to ransom. The rumour is CBSA wants $1,500 a day!

Written by Stephen Rees

July 27, 2008 at 12:26 pm

Posted in Transportation

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High Speed Rail

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I have just been watching “The Nature of Things” on CBC Newsworld

Rail Renaissance, our lead story, is a 20-minute segment that takes audiences to Europe where they’ll witness the exciting lead up to the launch of the new High Speed One service out of St. Pancras Station, in London. The launch signifies the end of a multi-billion dollar restoration to the rail lines between London and Paris, and to St. Pancras, the station that will be the new home of High Speed One. Along with the physical restoration, many communities along the rail line have been given a lifeline because of the new rail service. This colossal engineering project incorporates 60 kilometres of tunnel, over 150 bridges and 3 major viaducts. It has brought with it signs of newfound prosperity for east London and Southeast England, areas that have largely been neglected. This segment is hosted by the well-known urban affairs critic for The Toronto Star, Christopher Hume. The key question that this segment poses is, if high-speed rail is happening all over Europe, why isn’t it happening here, in Canada?

This was one of those serendipitous things. The furnace went out, so I had to go and find out how to get the pilot light on. But first I had to do my gig on CITR. So supper was late and I missed the news. So I turned to Newsworld to catch up and there was St Pancras in all its restored glory. Now I did mention here the record breaking run on High Speed One, and that has brought a lot of new readers to this blog. The opening of regular service on November 14 also brought me a lot of traffic.


There was discussion about London – and how it could not accommodate cars, so the motorway box was cancelled. More importantly no new car parking has been opened since the sixties. I didn’t know that. In fact when I was at the Department of Transport (as it was called then) the Thatcher government wanted to see “free market” solutions to everything – including parking. As the Economic Adviser, I was supposed to come up with ways to make the free market in parking supply come alive. What I did was point out that no-one would pay to park if they thought they could do it for free on street. So the wheels were set in motion for the toughest ever crack down on illegal parking. It included the introduction of wheel clamps. And it worked to clear out the illegal on street parkers. But, so far as I know, no-one actually wanted to build commercial car parks since there was a lot more money to made from offices and high end residential developments. And it turned out they didn’t. Since then the political wind has shifted, even though some will say that Tony Blair owed more to Thatcher than Nye Bevan. But the outcome has been startling.

Christopher Hume (the reporter on this segment) compared St Pancras to Toronto Union. He compared the Eurostar between London and Paris to VIA Rail between Toronto and Montreal. He thinks we are at least twenty years behind the times. And he blames CN. I think he should actually be looking at Ottawa. VIA Rail has been a patronage issue more than anything else. A way to reward the Liberal faithful with a sinecure. No-one takes long distance, intercity passenger rail travel seriously. It’s all cars and planes here. But it cannot go on like that for much longer.

What had to happen in Britain was that the government had to break out of the dogmatic Thatcherite straight jacket. She hated trains – and during her reign, never rode in one. She refused public funds to the Channel Tunnel and its link to London – so for the previous twenty years, the high speed trains that emerged from the tunnel were forced to slow to the pace of the London suburban services and essentially Victorian infrastructure. Well OK the Southern did bring things a bit more up to date in the thirties – but the speeds remained unremarkable. Blair, to his credit, figured out how to use upgrading the infrastructure to revitalise the run down areas through which the new line runs. Kings Cross and St Pancras will now be the centre of massive redevelopment. So will Stratford. There was much talk of “leverage” – but the reality is that London has become a major European and World centre because of its financial expertise. The real shift in my lifetime has been the change from London as major centre for manufacturing to a service economy – just as Toronto has also been transformed. The biggest change that I saw in my time was the closure of the docks and the transformation of East London that followed. Of course it was a painful process, with some notably violent clashes between the dockers and the police. Perhaps that is one reason why I find it so hard to understand why opening new port facilities here is supposed to be so terrific and forward looking.

What has been different in Britain is that the government came to realise that railways were essential. That modern trains would provide an alternative to driving and flying. That alternative would be a lot lighter on the environment – fewer emissions of both local air pollutants and greenhouse gases. One 400 meter long Eurostar is the equivalent of seven B737s in people moving capacity. Flying to Paris produces ten times the CO2 of taking the train. And those people are a lot more comfortable and happy – and get to their destinations more easily and with less hassle than flying or sitting in a jam on a “freeway”. Britain now spends three times the amount of money (in real terms) on supporting the railways than it did in the age of Thatcher. Fortunately, some of that money goes into new infrastructure, not just the pockets of private sector spivs.

Canada must start spending money – public money – on improving intercity rail travel, starting with city pairs like Edmonton-Calgary, Vancouver-Seattle, and the corridor Chicago-Detroit-Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal. It is no good expecting CN CP or Amtrak to change their ways. We need dedicated, high speed, direct rights of way with electrification from day 1. It will cost a fortune – but we are one of the richest countries in the world and we have, for now, the oil and coal revenues to make this happen. We have to invest the profits from fossil fuel into becoming independent of fossil fuels. We start with a carbon tax, and we use the revenues to build carbon free infrastructure. Paying off the national debt in an era of low interest rates must be seen as a lower priority than creating a sustainable future.

Written by Stephen Rees

November 22, 2007 at 8:12 pm