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Federal government extends Amtrak train for another year

By: Neal Hall
Vancouver Sun
October 14, 2010

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VANCOUVER - The second Amtrak train running between Vancouver and Seattle will get a one-year extension without a proposed fee being imposed, the federal government announced Thursday.

"We have agreed to extend the service for one year," Public Safety Minister Vic Toews told reporters during a hastily arranged news conference.

The minister said he asked the Canada Border Services Agency to "dig deep and find the money" - about $800,000.

The second train was part of a pilot project, added for Vancouver's Winter Olympics, that was supported with millions of dollars from both the Washington and B.C. governments.

It arrives in Vancouver at 10:50 p.m. and departs the next morning at 6:40 a.m. It joined the original train, which gets into Vancouver at 11:40 a.m. and departs at 5:45 p.m.

But the Canada Border Services Agency, after agreeing to extend the pilot beyond its original March deadline, notified Amtrak it planned to begin charging the company $1,500 a day starting Nov. 1.

The fee, to recover costs to process passengers, was expected to add $20 to a ticket, making the service uncompetitive.

The government initially responded by first extending the service without the fee until Oct. 31, and now promises the train will continue fee-free until next October.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson welcomed the move. "I want to thank the federal government for making the investment to keep the second Amtrak train operating," he said in a statement.

"This is good news for Vancouver's tourism industry and our local economy."

"There are no new funds in the extension of this contact," Toews said, adding the CBSA re-allocation of funds will not affect public safety.

"I can assure you it will not impact security," Toews said.

Treasury Board president Stockwell Day, a B.C. Conservative MP who attended the announcement, praised the move, which is seen as a boost to tourism between Canada and the U.S.

"It's a great example of how our national government can work," Day said.

He added the extension will give time to Amtrak and the hotel association to analyze the service to see if there is enough volume for it to continue.

Stephen Regan, president of the Council of Tourism Associations of B.C., said he was thrilled by the one-year extension.

"The announcement is great news because we believe a second train will be viable," he said.

"This is a great reprieve," added James Chase, CEO of the B.C. Hotels Association.

Washington State estimated the train has brought about $15 million a year in additional revenue to Vancouver's tourism industry, with about 75 additional passengers a day on the evening train. Amtrak says it has also seen an increase in ridership on its original train, owing to the added convenience of having a choice of return times.


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