The extension of Amtrak trains 513/516 to Vancouver B.C. will end on October 31st, indefinitely truncating the trains back to Bellingham. The Canadian Border Services Agency was unwilling to relent upon their demand for roughly $550,000USD in annual border clearance fees, and neither WSDOT nor Amtrak is willing to pay the fee. WSDOT issued a press release criticizing the decision and has urged CBSA to reconsider. The Bellingham Herald reports that the B.C. government wished to see the trains continue without a fee but was overruled by CBSA on fiscal grounds. Approximately 73 people per day rode 513/516 between Vancouver and points south over the life of the extension, with the Olympics and the summer months averaging roughly 100 per day.
More after the jump…
While Canada’s federal fiscal prudence clearly exceeds our own, and though it has every right to determine its own requirements for international services, this is terribly disappointing news nonetheless. The fee is being imposed just before the completion of customs renovations at Pacific Central, and the viability of the service was more than adequately proven both during and after the Olympics. Further, this represents a continued trend of hostility to rail service by the Canadian government.
Yet current Vancouver-bound trains arrive 11 hours apart, and even those of us who oppose the fee should recognize that this presents staffing challenges. In this light, perhaps this represents an opportunity to better utilize our Talgos. Currently, 510 sits at Pacific Central for 6 hours before becoming 517, while 516 sits 7 hours overnight before becoming 513. Interlining 500/517 (Eugene to Vancouver, BC to Seattle) and 510/509 (Seattle to Vancouver BC to Eugene) would provide the same level of service, allow Vancouver arrivals to be spaced only 5 hours apart, and for the first time provide end-to-end service on the Cascades corridor. Something tells me CBSA would find this much more agreeable.
In any case, the wording of WSDOT’s press release seems to indicate their view that the issue is not yet settled, so look for further updates in the coming months.