Amtrak Cascades has wanted to run another daily train from Seattle to Vancouver, but Canada’s customs agency has been asking Amtrak Cascades to cover the costs of Canadian customs service on the new run – around $1,500 a day – and Cascades doesn’t have the money. Because that money isn’t budgeted, the new service has been delayed. Thankfully, the Canadian Government’s hold-up has continued to get press from our northern neighbours (that’s the way they spell it, anyway), and the hold-up is going to go away, though only briefly ” before, during and for a short time after” Vancouver’s 2010 Olympic games. Here’s Jon Ferry in the Province (H/T to Lloyd):
Responding to increasing pressure, however, federal Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan has finally agreed to waive the customs cash grab “immediately before, during and for a short time after the 2010 Winter Games.” The only problem is the extra trains are needed right now for what will undoubtedly be a critical summer tourist season.
[Discovery Institute's Cascadia Center Director Bruce] Agnew points to a Washington state Department of Transportation study showing that Amtrak passengers currently spend nearly $16 million Cdn a year in the Vancouver area. With a second train on the Vancouver-Seattle run, that could soar to as much as $49 million.
Saying they plan to temporarily waive the border fee may be a way for the Canadian Federal Government to save face and pray for a successful Olympic Games despite the worst economy in generations, but I’d take the Canadian Government’s position at face value. Anyone who dreams about Vancouver-Seattle-Portland high speed rail needs to pay attention to this topic: the US Federal Government is going to take a look at this customs issue before to making any long-term investments in high speed rail on Amtrak Cascades. If the Canadian government isn’t willing to chip in $1,500 a day – at most $547,500 a year – to make a second daily run possible, what hope is there of several daily runs, or anywhere near enough runs to make an investment by the federal government on this side of the border worthwhile?
This hard-line stance may have earned political points in Canada during the Bush administration, but I can’t imagine this is popular today. I’d hate it if Ottawa’s stinginess over just the customs fees on a second run jeopardized our chance of regional high speed rail. Come on, Ottawa, the train is going to get you guys millions in tourist dollars and you only have to pay the customs fees. Get on the ball.