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All Aboard Washington has the scoop:

We’ve just received word that Canadian Minister for Public Safety, Vic Toews, announced in a CBC interview this morning, “Upon careful review of the business case and despite some significant financial constraints, the Canada Border Services Agency has decided that it will continue to provide publicly funded border clearance service to Amtrak’s second daily train.”

This is great news. Even after discounting the effects of the 2010 Olympics and the addition of the 2nd train, ridership has been growing faster to/from Vancouver BC than any other destination, up 24% in 2011 over 2010. Though capacity constraints are well-known and there is not much room for growth, it is encouraging to see the service being well-utilized.

Though Canada has perhaps the least rail-friendly federal government in the rich world, the staffing challenges presented by arrivals spaced 11 hours apart are not insignificant, and I hope in the coming years that Amtrak, WSDOT, BC, and Ottawa will work creatively to streamline service and clearance procedures so that these issues are minimized. Even rail advocates should recognize that the cost of CBSA services at Pacific Central station is a steep C$1,500/day. (Interestingly, until yesterday seats on trains 513/516 beyond October 1st were going for $83 each way, more than double the fare on 510/517. The fare has since returned to the standard $38.  Was Amtrak briefly considering passing the border fee onto passengers?)

Of course, most welcome would be a provincial partnership with ODOT and WSDOT for operations funding and capital improvements, but don’t hold your breath.  I have an email in to Laura Kingman at WSDOT for more information, and will update this post if any new info becomes available.

40 Replies to “2nd Cascades Train to B.C. Will Continue Indefinitely”

  1. Good news! Of course for BC to put some money into capital improvements would be even better and maybe make possible another train each way. But like Zach says, don’t hold your breath.

  2. This should never have been an issue to begin with. The Canadian Border officials only have to be at the station for a short time around arrival time to clear the train. There are personnel on duty 24/7 at both the airport and the harbo(u)r. No reason why sending some over in a taxi to Pacific Central for an hour or so (they have an accurate ETA based on when the train crosses the river) should be anything more complicated than sending some over to Pier X to meet an incoming freighter.

  3. Good news! It’s hard to believe that the Canadian government can’t subsidize a daily trainload of tourists itching to dump money into the local economy.

    There’s a bad history of government subsidies for railroads in BC that might still be poisoning the air regarding passenger railroads in Canada. In the 1960s and 70s the BC government built hundreds of miles of railroad lines into the BC interior to exploit the mineral and lumber wealth and bring those products to market. They also ran passenger trains to distant and faraway locations–all at a huge loss to the taxpayers. Many of the government built lines are now abandoned and there is still a lot of bitterness over the tremendous cost to the taxpayer for the foolishness of BC Rail. For anybody who remembers the WPPSS meltdown in our state, BC Rail was every bit as ugly as that mess.

    1. I was reading a history of politics in BC and indeed, that about destroyed the conservative social-credit party at the time.

    2. Of course, it gets worse than that: the remaining “good” lines in BC Rail were then sold off at below-market prices just a few years ago, just before they started to be valuable again, losing the taxpayers more money.

  4. This is very good news. An analysis published recently in “Trains” magazine suggested that the second daily train brings $12 million CAD in tourism revenue to the province. It would have been a crying shame to lose out on that over a $1500 CAD Customs Fee.

  5. I’m all for the pasaenger convenience of doing the Customs formalities at the station, but if it’s that big a deal, isn’t there some way it could be done with a short stop at Blaine / White Rock?

    1. No.

      That’s how they do it on the Amtrak Maple Leaf train that travels from New York City to Toronto.

      The customs stop is scheduled to take to hours. It often takes four hours.

      Think about it: at the station, when the train arrives, it’s there. If your passport is in good order and everything’s on the up-and-up, on you go. If there’s one guy with an expired visa or a criminal history who holds things up, that’s his problem, not yours.

      If it’s done mid-route with a stop at the border, that one or two people on the train with a complicated issue hold the entire train up.

      This is the same reason WTA in Whatcom County has never instituted cross-border bus service to Vancouver, BC, even though it’s been considered many times. You can’t run a scheduled service across the border with customs clearance en route and expect to ever meet that schedule.

      1. I agree. The Maple Leaf border check is an exercise in Barney Fifedom that needs no imitation. It was all I could do to keep from laughing at the sheer stupidity of the procedures/officers involved, but I didn’t want to be tasered or sent to Guantamino.

        First, They close the snack bar and throw everyone out of it to use it as their interrogation center. Then they go through the train and ask everyone a series of three incredibly stupid questions that any idiot could learn the answers to. If you are sufficiently dim-witted, or they don’t like your papers, it’s off to the snack bar for you. It reallly is a total joke.

  6. That’s great news! Ultimately Oregon and Washington and BC need to just secede from their respective national governments, forming the Republic of Cascadia. That would solve all this pesky customs business.

      1. Seattle would be most central and the largest. And I firmly believe the US states have done this exactly wrong – capitals should always be in big cities, not stuck in the middle of nowhere. Because that’s where the people are.

      2. The reason why many states have small capital cities is that the capital actually was one of the largest settlements when the state was founded, but hardly anyone lived there at the time. In our case, Olympia was designated the capital of Washington Territory in 1853, about when the first settlers arrived in the area that is now Seattle.

        Seattle’s population first surpassed Olympia’s sometime in the 1870s, by which time Olympia was well-established as the capital. They certainly could have moved the capital at that time, and in hindsight that may have been a good decision, but with every passing year the cost of moving government buildings to a larger city only increases.

      3. I think it would be a great idea to consider moving a capital every, say, 50 years to the largest city. Design government buildings for re-use as elegant theaters. Or start putting them in the lower-middle levels of tall buildings.

      4. Matt, I disagree that state capitals should necessarily be in a large city. It makes more sense to me that it be geographically central.

        Massachussets does it your way, but then the capital is way off in the corner of the state. It would be better off in some place like Springfield. Hmm, here’s another good rule: every state capital should be named Springfield. It would make it easier for grade school children.

      5. [aw] You stated an opinion without a reason. Are you thinking about travel distance for the average voter (but if the population’s in the corner, that’s still the best place for it)? Defensive security? An aesthetic sense of symmetry?

        I find that our problem with Olympia is that they don’t get city issues. I found that in California with Sacramento as well. This may simply be because of the political power of rural interests, but it seems to me part of this comes from living in car-centric and lobbyist-filled areas far from real cities. Representatives don’t belong in government-only bubbles – they should be mixed with the people.

      6. The legislators represent their constituents. It doesn’t much matter where they meet. Geographically central so that legislators, and constituents have an equally burdonsome problem getting there. Maybe at the population centroid would be better. That wouldn’t necessarily be in the biggest city, but around here it would be pretty close to where it is now.

        In any case, there’s no need to move it around from time to time just because. Move it when it makes sense, like Philly/DC or Bonn/Berlin or Rio/Brasilia.

      7. Congress gave each new state three major amenities: a capital, a university, and a prison. These were distributed to Olympia, Seattle, and Walla Walla respectively. There was some debate on whether to site the capital in Seattle (hence Capitol Hill), but ultimately it went to Olympia. I don’t think Olympia was ever seriously considered to be the largest city long-term, at least by the time the capital was debated. Instead, Seattle and Tacoma were vying to attract the transcontinental railroad terminus and thus be the largest city on the Sound.

        English-speakers in the New World have put many of their capitals away from the largest cities: Washington, DC; Ottawa, Canada; Wellington, NZ; Canbarra, Australia; Sacramento, CA; Carson City, NV; Salem, OR; Helena, MT; Albany, NY; etc. In contrast, most other people put their capitals in the largest cities; e.g., in Latin America Mexico City, Buenos Aires, etc. Brazil is the exception here, but it moved its capital from Rio to Brasilia in the 1960s. I don’t know why why British-descended colonists are so much more likely to have capitals in small cities when London is so centralized, but the US in particular does have an anti-urban bias absent in other countries, and that may be part of it (“Big cities are too corrupting, sinful, and unhealthful.”)

    1. No thanks on the Cascadia bit. However, if the craziness south of the border gets really extreme, I would support allowing some States (such as Washington and Orgeon) to apply to become Provinces of Canada.

      Great news about the train though!

  7. All Aboard Washington does a lot of work behind the scenes to keep Amtrak Cascades the train service it is today. I saw on their facebook they have a membership special, $10 for the remainder of the year to get people to join. I go to their meetings and dont see a lot of people from the STB and i think this is something more STB’ers should be involved with. And Really, the full $25/year isnt that bad either, and for what the cost of a couple of high end coffee’s these days?
    http://www.formstack.com/forms/?1100847-UUat3RRRJn

    1. After taking the Surfliner from LA to Irvine this last week I realize how much nicer the Cascades service is than other Amtrak offerings. Get the reliability and frequency up and the travel time down and we have a winning combination. Oh and serve chowder in the morning and play *anything on the T.V.s instead of just letting them sit there. Crap, play Portlandia or cheap Indie stuff.

      1. They just upgraded the LCD screens, but they only display train location and travel information now. And of course the safety video thats poorly dubbed.

      2. Obviously, your mileage varies, but personally, I’d much, much rather have nothing on the TVs than anything. Especially if I’m trying to get some work done.

      3. You want to experience a really crap corridor service, try the Hiawathas!

        (Thank goodness they are also getting Talgos)

      4. Ahem. If you want to experience a *really* crap corridor service, I would note that the Hiawathas are among the best of the corridors coming out of Chicago… try one of the Michigan services. Just as unpleasant conditions, but much, much slower!

    2. Yeah, but I’m not so sure about that whack-job that does one of the columns in their newsletter. Who does he think he is, some RR expert?

    3. You’re certainly right about that…I used to be a member, and they really gave Amtrak strong attention.

      BTW: there are interesting demographic differences between the two groups, at least in terms of who shows up for the meetings. AAW seems to be considerably older, and non-King.

  8. This is really fantastic news, the Amtrak Cascades is a terrific service and the best way to travel from Vancouver to Seattle and Portland.

    I (and others) definitely support the BC Government working to improve the existing rail link and beginning to set aside right of way for a future high speed connection. The trouble is (as mentioned above) the previous BC Rail fiasco, the current government’s obsession with highway construction and the focus of development is generally turning away from the United States as Asia continues to become more important to BC’s economy.

    Ultimately though the rail link is one of the best ways to increase the people moving capacity between our three jurisdictions and certainly the most cost effective and its time for Canada’s Federal Government and BC’s Government to step up into a more comprehensive partnership on the Cascades.

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