According to this Op-Ed in the Province, the work to improve the track between the border in Vancouver by creating a passing track in Delta, BC was completed six months ago. However, the Canada Border Services Agency has imposed new costs on the service, and that has delayed progress the service improvements. Let’s hope they can get their act in shape, the last time I took Amtrak to Vancouver it took hours and hours; any improvement would make the trip much more pleasent.

24 Replies to “Canada Delaying Amtrak Improvements”

  1. Pretty sure we’ve been over this here, but for the uninitiated, the staffing requirements for processing a full train arriving god-knows-when-thanks-to-American-freight-carriers are hugely different than processing an added bus.

    It IS new service, and I can’t say I blame them for wanting more money from Amtrak to staff the processors, which is what this is all about in the end.

    The problem is that with all the whining going on about spending money to support our own people (ie: auto bailout), no one will step up to the plate to advocate for money to be sent over the border in the form of Canadian customs agents.

    Can you really blame the Canadians? They have their own problems in the form of a pending swell of Olympic tourists and no way to pay for the customs staff.

    Eight years of “Fuck you world, we’re America” gets you exactly this sort of treatment.

    1. What happens in the other direction? Wouldn’t the American team have the same issues? (I honestly don’t know, since I haven’t taken the trip yet)

      Actually, I’m curious about the whole process. It seems like the most efficient thing to do is have customs agents board at the last WA stop and ride until the BC border, then hop on the train again to get back (or bus down, if the train isn’t turning around at the right time). Under this scenario the US team would do the same thing in reverse. Really you only need one or two customs agents using this technique.

      1. I don’t know. That’s why I’m asking. Brad implies that it takes a lot of staff.

      2. Going from Seattle to Vancouver, there are no stops between the border and train station, so the customs agents interview everyone at the station. There were probably 3 customs agents, plus perhaps a few general security people. It’s pretty much the same as you’d find in a smaller airport (or a large airport on a bad day!)

        I’ve never managed to get the train for the return trip, but my understanding is they do pre-clearance in Vancouver. That would mean all of the staff is based in Canada (though presumably the U.S. customs agents receive their paycheque from the U.S.)

  2. As a product of the 1960’s “out of the box” thinkes, I think I have a solution to not only BC/Washington train problems, but perhaps all border crossings. My proposal is a bit radical.

    It’s all about our FLAG! Let’s change it. Take out the blue field and make it red, with a maple leaf in the center Al La Canada. Then all those red and white stripes, would become Gold – Blue – Red of Colombia.

    EVERYTHING from Bogota to New Brunswick, Miami to Manitobia, Cali to Calgary… one beautiful land, one people, peace for all.

    1. But we need Canada to be a separate country. So that if another Bush is ever elected I have somewhere to move to.

  3. Ok, just for some clarification…

    The second train will be replacing a bus that is currently fulfilling this run. This has nothing at all to do with BNSF/CN/CP Railways in contrast to what Brad was saying.

    The way the setup is currently:

    Seattle to Vancouver BC; Customs inspection enroute, agents are picked up in Blaine and stay on the train into Vancouver.

    Vancouver BC to Seattle; Customs inspection is done at Vancouver Station before you board the train.

    This is NOT new service, this isn’t a brand new, foreign train that has never been in Canada. It’s known as the Amtrak Cascades, Trains 510/517 which currently goes to Vancouver.

    The second train will have a slight schedule change compared to what it is current Seattle – Bellingham train is.

    If we want to move onto the subject of delays THEN we can look at the freight railroads but the Canada Border Services is purely on the Canadians and nothing to do with freight railroads.

    A lot of this will be explained in the next series on the Amtrak Cascades soon.

    1. That’s interesting — Canada definitely did its inspection at the Vancouver station last time I took Amtrak, in July. So either they’ve changed it, or it varies.

  4. It’s NOT a bus. Buses go thru the vehicle crossings and there are staff on hand 24/7 that can be transitioned from the office or customs booths to check a bus. It’s just a matter of walking across the parking lot. At any given time there’s at least 10 officers on duty at either crossing. Some of these can be rotated over to check a bus.

    A train is entirely different.

    For a train, there is a completely separate inspection crew. So the crew waits in Blaine, and gets on the train and rides in to the Vancouver station. After arrival, they do what? Go home? Chill for 6 hours until the next train departure? Drive an hour to the border or airport to do other customs jobs?

    Just sit down with a sheet of paper and figure out a way to staff two trains passing the border many hours apart without two separate crews and without splitting shifts and without overtime. It’s a simple labor issue.

    If we were talking going from 7 trains to 8, it would be ADDED service. But going from 1 to 2 is much more problematic, especially given the erratic on-time issues.

    1. In the morning, the staff will leave Vancouver on the train and go work a day job in Blaine, going home later via any number of methods that already exist for border staff who commute from Vancouver without driving.

      Likewise, regular Blaine border workers going home at night return on the evening train.

      It’s quite likely that this can be tacked onto the beginnings and ends of existing shifts.

  5. And of course, this all falls apart when the trains are not on time, which these NEVER are.

    Nice effort, tho.

  6. The actions of the Canadian government is disgraceful, especially the CBSA. This issue should have resolved months before the track was ready. My understanding was that the track was ready at the beginning of summer. As BC and Canada are the beneficiaries of this Amtrak service some level of government should be chipping in to get this train service up and running.

    Why should US taxpayers be the only one subsidizing this service which benefits Canadians and Americans equally?

    Keep up the good work STB! I am looking forward to the next article about the Cascades service.

    1. That’s especially unfortunate, as Canada had a large advertising campaign this summer, with people standing on street corners in downtown Seattle handing out pamphlets about the wonders of Canada and BC. It sounds like they could have promoted the new train service as well, if it had been ready.

    2. A government has to decide what is the best use of their taxpayers money. If the Canadian government doesn’t believe this train service is the best use of their money then why should they fund the train just because Washington has decided it is a good thing to do?

      I don’t think the actions of either government are disgraceful. It may be that the proponents of the service need to present a better business case to the Canadian government in order to sell their position. If they can’t do that don’t blame the Canadian government.

  7. Brad,

    The buses that are run on the Amtrak Cascades route between Seattle and Vancouver BC are what would be future train runs. Buses are the interim solution and the upgrade is rail. Oregon has the same exact setup with several of it’s through-bus service

    The bus is currently 8916, departs Seattle at 6:30pm and arrives Vancouver at 10:00pm. This bus will become Amtrak Cascades Train # 516 with the schedule adjusted slightly. Amtrak 516 departs Seattle at 6:40pm and arrives in Bellingham at 9:05pm. Those passengers wishing to continue to Vancouver BC can overnight in a hotel and wait for the morning train. Train 513/516 will be the continuation of this bus into Vancouver BC.

    On the contrary to what Brad was saying on OTP on the Vancouver and Bellingham trains are the best performing trains on the Cascades corridor with OTP being greater than 70% vs. the Seattle to Portland trains with Train 510 having the highest OTP for Amtrak Cascades with 94.8%.

    Per Amtrak, most of the delays are Non-Railroad which is defined as the following; As an example, Train 510 had only 6.5% of non-railroad related delays and Train 517 had 44.5% of non-railroad related delays, however Train 510 had 54.8% of Train Interference from BNSF while Train 517 had 36.0% from Train Interference.

    Here are some of the explanation from Amtrak’s website on the delays.

    Track and Signal Delays
    All delays related to the railroad infrastructure. Any type of delay involving problems with the tracks or the signals, or delays involving maintenance work being done on the tracks or signaling systems. This includes delays from reduced speeds to allow safe operation due to track problems.
    Train Interference Delays
    All delays related to other train movements in the area. Primary causes of these types of delays are freight trains but also can include commuter trains and other Amtrak passenger trains. This category also includes delays due to switching to alternate tracks or routes to operate around other trains.
    Non-Railroad Delays
    All delays related to a non-railroad third party. These delays can be due to customs and immigration, a bridge opening for waterway traffic, police activity, grade crossing accidents or loss of power due to a utility company failure.

    Data can be viewed on Amtrak’s website.

  8. Also, what happens if someone or something is detained during the train search? This happens all the time, even if its a simple paperwork problem. The agents would have to haul the person down to an office for processing and that would blow up any sort of flex-schedule.

    1. I really don’t understand why you think the CBSA isn’t basically trying to milk the province of BC for all that they can get.

      Maybe more money than is justified, maybe it’s not (I lean toward the latter based on the fact that they aren’t hiring a totally new shift, so much as shifting around the currently employed). But they are asking for the maximum amount from the provincial government and haven’t backed down from that number. I’d call that intrasigence. What do you call it?

      What, a federal agency negotiating with a province (or state) in bad faith? Say it ain’t so!

  9. It might help if Seattle and Portland rail enthusiasts put some friendly pressure on the Canada Border Services Agency to resolve the funding problems that have been blocking this important expansion of Portland-Seattle-Vancouver service.

    Officials who play a role include:

    Peter Van Loan, the cabinet minister who oversees the Canada Border Services Agency:

    Stephen Rigby, President of the Canada Border Services Agency:

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