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Second daily Amtrak trip won't be derailed: Transportation Minister

By: John Bermingham
The Province
September 22, 2010

Link to Original Article

B.C. Transportation Minister Shirley Bond said she won’t let an Amtrak train between Portland and Vancouver be derailed.

Bond told The Province she wants the federal government to fund border-clearance services on the second daily train, which arrives in Vancouver every night at 10.50 p.m.

Last week, Canada Border and Services Agency said it will end a pilot program that provided free border services to the second train, which ran through the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Washington State said in turn that it will end the expanded service on Nov. 1 if they are billed the annual $550,000 fee for border services.

“We are not prepared to write it off,” Bond told The Province Tuesday. “We are going to lobby aggressively to the federal government.

“We are disappointed with where we find ourselves today.”

The second rail service was championed by Premier Gordon Campbell and Washington Governor Chris Gregoire when it was launched in August last year with a $2.9-million investment from the province.

Bond admits she’s concerned the service is in peril over only $550,000.

Bond has been meeting with Washington Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond to find a solution. They meet again Thursday.

The service is operated by Amtrak, along with the Washington and Oregon departments of transportation.

Washington DOT spokesman Andrew Wood, who helps run the service, said the second train brings an average of 73 passengers to Vancouver, so additional border staffing would effectively cost $20 per passenger.

“The fee should be waived,” said Wood. “People cross at the border by day and by night, by road, and there’s no special fee.”

Amtrak’s long-term plan is to run four round-trips to Vancouver by 2030.

“This cuts across everything we were trying to do,” he said.

NDP transport critic Harry Bains said the rail service also creates jobs in the taxi and hotel industries in Vancouver — so the provincial and federal governments need to pony up the $550,000, Bains said.

“I think it’s a no-brainer,” he said, standing outside Pacific Central Station at Main and Terminal. “This is something that we need.”

Liberal MP Ujjal Dosanjh urged the federal government to reverse its decision.

“If the CBSA’s fees go ahead, the Harper government will be putting a stop to the daily second Amtrak train and permanently derailing the estimated $11.8 million in annual tourist spending and economic benefits that come with it,” he said in a statement Tuesday.

Tourism Vancouver’s Candice Gibson, who works with Amtrak and Washington State in marketing the rail service, said the rail link is eco-friendly, and it’s become part of the Vancouver experience for Washington State tourists.

“The Amtrak train provides consumers from our largest U.S. market an option to rubber-tire trips,” said Gibson.

“We have no doubt it will be a positive thing if we can see the expansion of the Amtrak service into Vancouver in the coming years.”

The Canadian Border Services Agency declined a request for an interview.

In an email statement from Ottawa, CBSA repeated that it will cancel the pilot project on Oct. 31, but would continue border services if Amtrak paid for them.

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