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Canada relents on cash demands for late Amtrak run from Seattle

A decision by the Canadian government not only preserves the existing second daily train but also opens the possibility of a third train.

The so-called second Seattle-Vancouver Amtrak train, whose continuation has hung by threads since its 2009 launch, has entered the realm of the permanent. Canada's Public Safety minister, Vic Toews, announced Tuesday (Aug. 15) that the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), “despite some significant financial constraints,” will continue to perform border clearance inspections for the train when it arrives in Vancouver every evening. The commitment, announced at a joint press conference held in Winnipeg by Toews and his U.S. counterpart, Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano, removes the key stumbling block to the train's long-term survival.

The train's 10:50 p.m. arrival time at Vancouver's Pacific Central Station had led the Canadians to demand a $1,500 daily charge to cover the inconvenience to the CBSA of the late hours. Neither Amtrak, which operates the train under a sponsorship agreement with the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), nor WSDOT itself had been willing to fund the inspection, leading the CBSA to foot the bill itself on a temporary, trial basis, originally in view of the benefits of having the train during the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

WSDOT Secretary Paula Hammond described her department as “very pleased” with the Tuesday decision. Hammond told Crosscut, “We've worked hard with the British Columbia Ministry of Transport to demonstrate the benefits of that second trip to Vancouver — which must have had some influence, because Secretary Napolitano went to bat for us at Governor Gregoire's request, and Minister Toews has agreed that we continue to have the inspections at no cost to Washington.”

Asked if the news from Winnipeg will advance widely discussed plans for a third Vancouver-Seattle train, Hammond struck a hopeful tone: “One of the things that we needed was the guarantee of the second round-trip. We know from our experience in the Seattle-Portland corridor that when you have consistent service, that ridership goes up. That's what we want — to hook people into the advantages of train travel. We'll certainly be talking about future expansions.”

Backers of the second train, who included mayors along the route, the Vancouver Economic Development Commission, and All Aboard Washington, the state's passenger rail advocacy group, had stressed the economic benefits of bringing scores of overnight visitors to the city every evening. The argument appears to have won the day, as Toews stated that the decision followed a “careful review of the business case.”

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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