Operating as a pilot project for more than a year, the second daily Amtrak Cascades train to Vancouver, B.C. may be discontinued effective Nov. 1.
According to the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), the Canadian federal government requested the agency to pay nearly $550,000 a year for border clearance services to cover additional staffing by the Canada Border Services Agency for the 10:50 p.m. second-train arrival.
The imposed fee would force WSDOT, which subsidizes Amtrak Cascade, to cancel the service.
Officials on both sides of the track are worried about the economic impact of the decision and voiced concern in a WSDOT press release.
“British Columbia and Washington are so disappointed by this news,” said Washington Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond. “The economic benefits for Vancouver and Washington are clear as travelers shop, eat and stay in local hotels. The second train has brought an estimated $11.8 million in economic benefits to British Columbia during the year it has been allowed to operate. Does it really make sense for $550,000 in annual border inspection fees to be the reason the service ends?”
“I am very disappointed to hear about this lack of commitment from the Canadian federal government,” said State Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, chair of the Senate Transportation Committee. “Washington has made investing in passenger rail service a top priority, but we need support from our neighbors to continue this valuable transportation option that connects our two countries. We will be reaching out to our congressional delegation urging their support in resolving this issue between the U.S. and Canadian governments.”
Total ridership on the train in question, a route between Portland and Vancouver, carried 245,000 passengers during the pilot program, which was extended through Sept. 30 to assess post-Olympics ridership. Since Aug. 19 of last year, 26,837 passengers have traveled across the U.S./Canadian border on the second train.
A steady increase in ridership has been documented by WSDOT. On average, 73 people per day rode into Vancouver. Over the past three months, that daily average has jumped to about 100 people.
“We proved that the ridership demand was there, during the Olympics and after,” Hammond said. “We have no money to cover this added cost and we will not ask Washington travelers to pay more for their tickets, when customers traveling into Washington don’t have to pay a U.S. customs fee.” For now, service by the second train will continue through Oct. 31.
Staff Reporter Adam Stewart: 629-8066 ext. 115 or firstname.lastname@example.org.