The campaign to save an old passenger-train station in Blaine, Wash. gained a little steam this week, thanks in part to visiting Canadians.
Councillors from Surrey and White Rock crossed the U.S. border to back a plan that would revive the station as a stop on the Vancouver-to-Seattle Amtrak service.
BNSF Railway, owner of the border town’s dilapidated station, has applied for permission to demolish the century-old wooden building – located just south of the Peace Arch – but the City of Blaine has delayed a final decision on the tear-down to allow time for a review of its historical significance.
At a Monday night meeting of Blaine council, Surrey Coun. Marvin Hunt and White Rock Coun. Grant Meyer (pictured below) told their U.S. counterparts that a reopened passenger-train station could draw on a potentially huge customer base from their cities, in addition to neighbouring Delta and both Langleys.
Currently, local residents who want to board the southbound Cascades run must head north to Vancouver’s Pacific Central Station.
“We have 870,000 people lying on the other side of the border, who right now have to spend an hour to go into Vancouver and then take an hour to come back out on the train, wasting two hours,” Hunt said.
Meyer, who has fought unsuccessfully for an Amtrak stop in his community, said the U.S. option would be a logical substitute.
“I think it can be the stop that we wanted in White Rock, but due to customs issues and parking issues just wasn’t feasible,” Meyer said following the meeting. “I think this could be the answer.”
Blaine council also heard from Bruce Agnew, director of Cascadia Center, a Seattle-based transportation policy body, who said that as well as lobbying for a train stop, Blaine council should push for a third Vancouver-to-Seattle train running in the middle of the day to supplement the existing morning and evening runs.
Agnew said the station should be considered part of a “Semiahmoo Gateway” that includes the many Canadians just across the border who want to avoid the roundabout trip to Vancouver.
“We’re suggesting Blaine would be perfect as a portal,” Agnew said. “I think there’s a lot of pent-up demand to ride the train.”
Agnew said the “incredible” increase in the number of Canadians flying out of Bellingham International Airport supports the case for a Blaine station that caters to the Canadian market.
Blaine councillors were a receptive audience.
“It’s not often that I’ve seen council members applauding a delegation,” Hunt observed. “It seemed to be a very positive response.”
Blaine council member Bonnie Onyon said the city should lobby Washington State Gov. Christine Gregoire to amend the regional transportation plan by adding a Blaine train stop.
Blaine businessman Bill Becht – one of the people campaigning to save the station – said it is still an uphill battle but added that he is more optimistic following this week’s meeting.
“I think this is probably going to happen,” Becht told Peace Arch News.
“I feel really good about it.”
For more information about the train station campaign, visit http://www.blainestation.com/