'Everett Station' by Lookin' Sharp All The Time

After a period of intense lobbying and pressure from a variety of interest groups and stakeholders, Canada’s federal government announced Thursday that the second daily Amtrak Cascades trip to Vancouver will continue to run for another year, at least until October 2011.  Last month, we reported that the Canadian government would start charging WSDOT an annual fee of $550,000 to cover border security fees; that stipulation would have led to the cancellation of the second train by the end of this month.  To absorb the costs, Amtrak would need to add $20 to each passenger fare.

Several public officials took the lead on saving the train, including a collaboration of regional mayors (PDF).  According to the Globe and Mail, even Janet Napolitano got involved:

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and U.S. ambassador to Canada David Jacobson pressed the [Canadian] federal government to extend support for the train, put in place to accommodate a surge in tourist traffic during the Olympics. The reprieve means that Amtrak and its supporters will have a year to demonstrate that the economic benefits – estimated at $11-million for Canada – justify the added inspection costs borne by the federal government.

The news is very welcome for those of us who’ve pushed for more Cascades service.  While the CBSA extension allows the trip to run for another year between Portland and Vancouver, the current schedules still require lengthy layovers that don’t make the most out of the Cascades fleet.  Zach last opined that interlining service could allow for more efficient use of the Talgo fleet, leading to a comment thread that yielded some fairly thoughtful suggestions.

48 Replies to “2nd Amtrak Cascades Trip to Vancouver Saved”

  1. If the economic benefits are $11 million per year for Canada, what’s in it for the U.S.?

    How much is it costing U.S. taxpayers to send some Americans to Canada to spend their money in Canada instead of spending that money in the U.S.? How much is that hurting the U.S. economy when Americans take their money out of the U.S. and spend it in Canada?

    1. You are completely right Norman.

      We need to re-examine any transportation links we have with Canada, especially those that might benefit Canadians.

      Let’s start with closing, jack-hammering and bulldozing I-5 north of Bellingham. I mean, there’s no reason for a USDOT/WSDOT-subsized limited-access, divided highway north of that city, right? Blaine and Point Roberts don’t themselves generate much traffic.

      Similar treatments would then really need to be implemented on all Interstate highways after their northern- (and southern-)most U.S.A. “Major Control City” as defined by AASHTO, no?

      While we are at it, let’s make certain that no domestic US flights use Canadian airspace (and thus pay fees to Nav Canada) in their flight plans. Fly through that thunderstorm over North Dakota, even if the skies over Saskatchewan are clear. Sure, this policy will make landing at DTW and BUF a bit more dangerous, but it’ll be worth it not to support the Canadians.

      I sure hope the Canadian Coast Guard and and SAR services along the Northwest passage to Alaska make sure now not to assist any U.S.-flagged vessels. And squeezing all U.S. O&D vessel traffic over to the U.S.-side of the Straits of Juan de Fuca sure will make the job of Seattle Traffic (USCG VTS) easier.

      Now, and here’s the best part, we’d have to look closely at all the Canadian Trucks which use I-90 versus the Trans-Canada for intra-Canadian trips between Western Canada and Eastern Canada. While I am sure alot of them have been scared off by DHS paranoia, any that remain must be prohibited from using motels, eating meals or buying our USDOD-subsidized Diesel fuel!

      And those pesky automobile manufacturing plants…what to do? Yeah, lets make sure that all “U.S.-built” cars are actually built in U.S. plants with U.S.-made components.

      Lumber for housing? Electricity for the Northeast USA from James Bay, Quebec?

      Crap, I just realized we might have to shut down the St. Lawrence Seaway!

      Good Luck on all that Norman!

      1. I trust your comment is directed at Norman. Regular readers are more than familiar with Erik G’s pointed and cynically didactic sense of humour.

    2. “How much is it costing U.S. taxpayers to send some Americans to Canada to spend their money in Canada instead of spending that money in the U.S.?”

      I don’t know. How much did Interstate 5 cost to build between Seattle and the Canadian border? What about maintenance? No taxpayer funds there at all…

      1. Pointed, and didactic, but not cynical. All Erik did was insert auto/trucking related nouns in a Norman style argument.

      2. I can’t take full credit for it. It was used once as an argument by, I think Gene Skoropowski when he was encountering resistance establishing a Capitol Corridor Thruway bus to Reno. Opposition to it centered around the State of California assisting the running a “subsidized bus” to take “tourists” to the Nevada casinos. Skoropowski retorted that by building I-80 over Donner Pass, the State of California was already doing just that.

  2. Congratulations all around for Bruce Agnew and others at Cascadia, Lloyd Flem of All Aboard WA, and an unprecedented ‘trainload’ of elected officials on both sides of the border for speaking up when it mattered most.
    ps. Norman, a trainload of Canadians cross the border southbound and yes, they do have money to spend.

    1. So, the money spent in the U.S. by Canadians is equal to the money spent in Candad by Americans? Then the Cadadian money being spent in the U.S. cancels out any benefit of the American money being spent in Candada, and there is no net benefit to Canada’s economy, or the U.S. economy.

      If that is the case, then, what is the benefit to either country? All that would do is cost taxpayers in both the U.S. and Canada a lot of money to subsidize sending these tourists across the border.

      1. This isn’t Pokémon Cards, Norman. Increased activity benefits both countries’ economies, even if the net real dollars spent in both countries is the same. You don’t need a trade surplus to benefit from trade.

      2. I don’t think I understand your complaint, Norman…

        Amtrak offering more service to its customers is a good thing, and presumably helps them cover their costs of doing business.

        The need to “justify” the $11 million benefit to Canada is to show the government there why it’s not in their interests to expect Americans to cover a $550,000 annual fee for border inspection costs.

        There’s no mention at all in this piece about what the benefits are to companies in the U.S. and their customers; but, presumably, many folks here — some who post on this blog — are taking advantage of the increased options for travel to Canada.

      3. Oh, and as Mike says above, presumably Canadians are using the train to come down here and spend money as well.

      4. Your first paragraph shows a profound lack of understanding of economics.

        Not so supportive of any innate sense of logic and critical thinking either.

      5. Right. So nobody can explain that this helps either economy in any way.

        Just as I expected. Just taxpayer subsidies so a hundred tourists a day can ride trains to Canada instead of taking a bus or driving. What a stupid waste of tax revenues.

      6. What have you done for our economy, Norman?

        Last time I checked tourists were taxpayers too. I don’t understand why the concept of the government providing government services is so evil to you.

      7. What part of economy don’t you understand Norman? When I get on an Amtrak train bound for Canada I’m spending money from the time I leave to the time I get home. That money goes to Canada and I wouldn’t have spent it otherwise. Outside of Vancouver there’s not a lot of other cities to travel to around here. And whenever a Canadian gets on a train and travels south they’re spending money which may not be spent otherwise. If you haven’t noticed there’s not a lot of other cities north of the border either. Maybe you think it’s best to just not spend money to grow an economy? And if so I’d like to hear how that works.

        As far as the bus is concerned – I won’t do it. It just isn’t a very good experience.

    2. Not only was Norman most likely around for it, but I bet he was a fan a of the Smoot–Hawley Act. I mean, it all cancels each other out right?

      1. We’re talking about tourism here, not goods. Tourism only helps the country where money is spent — in this case Canada. Nobody has explained how Americans going to Canada and spending their money in Canada helps the U.S., because it doesn’t. Does it?

        Trading goods can be beneficial to both countries. However a large trade DEFICIT, as the U.S. trade deficit with China, is very bad for the country with the deficit. Do you ever read the news? Have you not read how the U.S. trade DEFICIT with China is costing the U.S. millions of jobs? Do you understand the concept of “outsourcing”?

        Your comment makes you sound quite simple.

      2. It’s not just tourists but business travellers as well. The question comes down to whether these trains are creating trips themselves or simply shifting trips from other modes. Probably a bit of both.

        How much did SeaTac’s expansion cost Washington? Whaat percentage of trips are short commuter runs that could be shifted to rail? Much more effecient allocation of resources which good for both economies.

        And seriously, we’re talking about Canada here not China. BUT if you would like I can go into the way we calculate trade is misleading

  3. Let me answer this way. While standing under the Peach Arch, dedicated to the friendship between Canada and the United States, is a plaque. It reads:
    “May These Gates Never Be Closed.”
    I’m assuming that free trade, travel, and economic exchange between both countries is a positive thing. The 49th parallel is just a location, unless we make it something much bigger than is has to be.

      1. And the 49th parallel, from Elm Point, MN to Point Roberts, WA is perhaps the most arbitrary boundary in the world. And only in the last ten years has it become of any significance. The families split by it used to pay little attention to it until the Texas Oil men with their fear of brown people came into power.

        Meanwhile in Europe, even Bulgaria is a part of Schengen!

  4. This is wonderful news and congratulations and thanks to all those who have made it possible – for another year……

    Ultimately the second train will seem like a drop in the ocean compared to the main focus which should at this point be two-fold:

    Adding even more trains to the service – at least once an hour would be great long term.

    Improving the terrible delays to this service on the Canadian side of the border and the unwelcoming approach into Vancouver when automation to the tracks running into the yard would greatly improve service.


    1. I’d like to see at least 4 per day to Vancouver. We have 5 a day to Portland and we can actually daytrip Portland for work or just for fun now for 1/4 the price of any of the plane options out of Seatac. If we had early morning trains and late night returns we could increase business and personal travel between the two cities.

      I agree that things need to be streamlined. Customs coming back takes about 15-20 minutes which could be done while the train is moving. The Canadian side is very slow. The train is already competitive time wise to ANY other form of travel between downtown Seattle to downtown Vancouver but if they could find 30 minutes on the Canadian side and 15 by doing the customs check onboard nobody could compete. If you can get business travellers the price can go up. I fly back and forth to Irvine CA same day. People would take the train up and back same day for business.

  5. Quite frankly, Amtrak should still add $20 per trip.

    Cascades is a premium, quality trip and people should be willing to pay for that.

    Under charging for transit is big problem.

    The LINK and Sounder are way under priced for example compared to East Coast trains that easily charge commuters $200 or $300 per month for service.

    1. If you want to be soaked to the bone, then you can take yourself and move to New Jersey!

      How about you take it upon yourself to give a fat tip to the conductor every day so that your commute can equal $300 a month!

      Look at Tri-Rail down in Florida. They charge 100 a month for their pass, and its valid for local transit to and from their stations.

      Brian Bradford
      Olympia, WA

    2. East Coast trains have twenty times more service. Here, the comfort of the train just makes up for their infrequency and slowness, it’s not “luxury” like a cruise ship or Eurostar. We are just getting rail established, compared to the east coast and Chicago, so of course the price is lower. Riding a train has a quarter the fuel consumption of driving, and if you want people to ride trains you can’t charge them more than driving — on top of the infrequent schedule, slowness, and out-of-the-way stations.

      Greyhound has been having problems and has been cutting routes and runs. It may not survive, and we need an alternative in place in case that happens. There are no other national bus companies that can take its place. It may be the last national bus carrier, and then we’ll be left with just Amtrak, planes, and cars.

      1. Greyhound was on the ropes a couple of years ago but they are now owned by FirstGroup (FGROY:ADR) which is a mega-conglomerate transportation company in the UK. They own bus services here (including Laidlaw) and abroad plus some railroads in Britain. I don’t think there’s any danger intercity bus transportation from Greyhound is going to disappear. Maybe they’d be willing to buy Amtrak and put everything on an equal footing.

  6. Yay! That means I can take the train up for a Vancouver trip in December. Next on the agenda, one more trip, and for goodness sakes, 3 1/2 hour trips.

  7. Norman, the exchange of goods and services is economic activity.

    If it happens in one country with the money from another country, and the other country has similar activity using money from the first – the equation isn’t 1-1=0 has you suggest.

    Instead it’s 1+1=2

    Is that the explanation you needed? I’m not sure I can make the math much simpler.

    1. Don’t you know, trade and commerce are zero sum games.

      Just ignore the last 65 years of economic history.

  8. This is great news for both the US and Canada.

    Norman, believe it or not, it’s not just about money. Government should be about service to citizens, and the citizens have voted with their dollars. If you want to rage against wasted tax dollars, may I respectfully point you towards the defense budget?

    1. I think I’d rather have privately run transportation companies than privately funded paramilitary organizations.

      1. Case in point. Contracting out to Blackwater was a “cost saving” move. Do you want them taking over Joint Base Lewis-McChord? There’s no doubt DOD dollars are wasted. Even the Pentagon has been trying to tell Congress to cut some of the most egregiously wasteful programs. But Senators and Congressmen are so intent on “bringing home the bacon” that it falls on deaf ears.

    2. I don’t want to take this any more OT than I already have except to say how about just less military? We spend more on “defense” than all of the rest of the world combined. Didn’t the 60’s teach us that we can’t have both guns and butter?

      Now back on topic: tax dollars spent on things like this create more tax dollars to spend, as people travel and eat out, stay in hotels, and buy things. Also, the money spent on Amtrak stays local, rather than going off to some oil company or airline.

      1. Right now the feds spend more on interest payments to service the national debt than all transportation spending. And the lions share of “transportation” is really “roads”. It’s true that you can’t have your cake and eat it too. Combined government spending (federal, state & local) interest vs transportation is almost equal with state and local spending about twice as much on transportation as debt. The only way to get debt under control is to shrink the federal spending and the major components are health care, pensions (military pensions, i.e. veterans benefits including health care are part of the defense budget), defense and welfare. All of which need to be pared back. Sure funding for Amtrak is a drop in the bucket but by keeping passenger rail nationalized we assure that it will continue to be marginalized.

      2. Until roads are privatized (which is not actually a good idea either) passenger rail will need to stay nationalized too.

        That doesn’t mean that *all aspects* of passenger rail absolutely need to stay nationalized. But even in “privatized” Britain, the tracks are nationalized, the signalling is nationalized, the scheduling is nationalized, the choice of routes and frequencies is nationalized.

        Sadly, some of those aspects are privatized in the US, and it’s well documented to be the cause of our defective passenger rail system. *AND* of our defective freight rail system; the horrible, no-good, very slow interface between different freight rail companies in Chicago exists, and doesn’t get fixed, largely because of the privatized track status.

      3. Trucks and buses (at least private buses) pay hefty fuel and excise taxes to help support the roads. Plus, Amtrak operates a substantial portion of its service via ThruWay bus service. Britain has an interesting system but it’s not a good model for the US. The government siezed control of the railroads during WWII but following the war the private owners were able to step back in and resume operations as normal. I’d argue that while nothing is perfect the long string of acquisitions and mergers have made the national freight system about as efficient as could ever reasonably be expected. There’s not a country in the world that can match it (Canada and Australia might come close). Signaling I can see. The government mandates how it’s going to be done so they might as well pay for it. It’s actually something they do very well. Imagine the chaos if air traffic control was left to the airlines. The US history is unique so we can’t just wholesale adopt solutions from another country. One approach might be to go back to the system where rail operators are required to provide a certain level of passenger service (and the government could provide a level of subside). BNSF for example could then choose to run this themselves (unlikely) or put out the contract to bid. That would be similar to the British model where private companies have an inventive to innovate and provide service the public wants. And, should they choose to do so States could run passenger rail (like Oregon and Washington effectively run Cascades service). Although I’d rather see a shift in the other direction where Washington turns over operations of WSF to a private company and then provides a subside. In effect a return to the original model before the State decided they could operate boats for less money than Black Ball.

  9. Delighted to hear this news but 4+ hours to travel 150 miles presents an ongoing structural problem. So, the efficacy on an economic level of this train connection is going to depend on solving the travel time problem. Even here on the east coast, Amtrak does not take 4+ hours to make what should be a two hour trip.

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