Amtrak's Vancouver train gets a reprieve

Political pressure saves Amtrak's evening service to British Columbia at the last minute.

Amtrak's evening train to Vancouver, B.C., got an 11th-hour reprieve Thursday (Oct. 14) when the Canadian government announced it would fund, for another year, the customs inspection that the train's passengers undergo upon arriving in Vancouver from Seattle.

The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) had announced Sept. 20 that it would cease performing the formalities after Oct. 31 if no one defrayed its costs of sending inspectors out for the 10:50 p.m. arrival. With no one having stepped forward, Amtrak was prepared to shift the train's northern terminus to Bellingham, reducing the provider's Vancouver service to one daily round trip.

Following intense pressure from U.S. and Canadian business and political leaders, Public Safety minister Vic Toews announced the continued funding unexpectedly, even as the train's advocates continued their full-court press. The train, which began service last year, has carried about 70 passengers to Vancouver every evening.

Those sharing the elation over the news included Bruce Agnew, director of the Cascadia Center, a Seattle transportation-policy institute. The effort “took everything,” he said, crediting U.S. Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano, mayors, and the British Columbian premier, among others. "We just wouldn't let this thing go. Secretary Napolitano's call to Minister Toews sealed the deal. She really put some pressure on them.”

Agnew said Cascadia would be investigating strategies to reduce CBSA's expenses to put the train on more solid long-term financial footing.

C.B. Hall is a freelance writer and has been following Pacific Northwest transportation issues since the 1990s. He can be reached through editor@crosscut.com.


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