The Seattle Times
March 4, 2007
In sometimes small steps, the region is binding together, almost despite itself as the connections between north and south Puget Sound become insistent rather than optional.
Such may be the case with the new agreement announced in Canada for a second Amtrak train between Vancouver, B.C., and Seattle. The object, according to the provincial Ministry of Transportation, is to "reduce traffic congestion and ease vehicle emissions on our major transportation corridors and at our border crossings."
British Columbia will put up $4.5 million, about half the cost, and BNSF Railway will build a passing track by the summer of 2008, and about 50,000 more tourists will enter B.C. the first year.
It's a private-public partnership of the kind measured skeptically in Washington state, where public-privates are not always welcome.
In dozens of countries worldwide, adding a second daily passenger train between two major cities across an open border would be ridiculously easy. But this agreement had to deal with U.S. Customs, now part of the Department of Homeland Security, whose members wanted to remain armed instead of handing over security to the RCMP — and dozens of similar bureaucratic decisions.
U.S. Customs clearance for southbound trains would take place at Pacific Central Station in Vancouver, with a stop at the border for a short inspection — for immigration, agriculture and sniffing dogs — at Blaine.
This took six years of negotiations and the change of two or three provincial and federal governments, but the obvious need for cross-border traffic during the 2010 Vancouver-Whistler Winter Olympic Games and the paucity of train travel everywhere pushed a deal together, according to Bruce Agnew of the Discovery Institute's Cascadia Center.
"Look ahead, and maybe we will see the opportunity for Canadian trains to come to Seattle," Agnew said, "like the Whistler Mountaineer or the Canadian Rocky Mountain passenger train."
The advent of another train to Vancouver — with the potential of four trains a day in the future — is reinventing old routes. Daily train service was halted, and then restarted in 1994 when Rep. Al Swift represented Washington's 2nd Congressional District.
This time, Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Lake Stevens, and Sen. Patty Murray worked on getting Customs clearance in Vancouver.
Agnew said daily trains would help a joint Seattle-Vancouver bid for the World Cup, similar to the Japan-South Korea World Cup venue.
Ah, yes, more ideas than we can count. Direct train service from Seattle to Vancouver and then to Whistler is such a no-brainer, you would think it would take six days to figure out instead of six years.
But, the region needs fixing, and rail, while not the only solution, gives us the tangible freight and passenger links along a historically rail-friendly coast. Mike Long of B.C.'s Ministry of Transportation emphasized this is just one agreement for one side track. But it's easy to mentally add on some additional cars and think of trains to come.
James F. Vesely's column appears Sunday on editorial pages of The Times. His e-mail address is: firstname.lastname@example.org