Plans to run a second Amtrak passenger train between Vancouver, B.C., and Seattle fell out of the House Transportation budget Friday.
Now local hopes ride on the Senate revising the budget and including $6.3 million toward operating the train.
The stakes are high for Skagit County, the region and the sate. A lone Amtrak train current streaks passengers daily between Seattle and Vancouver, stopping in Mount Vernon.
The second train would leave British Columbia early in the day, allowing passengers who hop aboard in Mount Vernon to make day trips to Seattle. The train also opens up possibilities for travelers between Canada and Oregon.
Mount Vernon Mayor Skye Richendrfer believes the Senate will turn the budget around when it realizes the consequences of not following through with partnerships.
“To step away from the altar now is shortsighted,” Richendrfer said.
The $6.3 million the state would pitch in for the train is dwarfed by $52 million from partners in this regional transportation endeavor, said Bruce Agnew of the Discovery Institute, a nonprofit public policy organization in Seattle.
“To cut off $6.3 million to lose $52 million is crazy,” Agnew said.
Amtrak spent $10 million on the train and $12 million to upgrade the tracks. And British Columbia plans to spend $30 million on track upgrades to facilitate this run, confirmed Jim Slakey, public transportation and rail director for the state Department of Transportation.
Agnew is working with Skagit, Whatcom, Snohomish and Island counties on developing regional transportation links.
Skagit County Commissioner Harvey Wolden serves on the North Sound Connecting Communities Project with Agnew and the other county representatives.
Wolden said he is baffled by legislators balking in the finals stages of a long-term commitment to the state’s partners and to the public.
Wolden said the Department of Transportation has invested $75 million in modernizing the rail corridor in recent years.
“It seems we will put up a trophy, but we won’t put in the rest of the money to make it functional,” he said.
Rep. Jeff Morris, D-Sedro-Woolley, serves on the House Transportation Committee. He fought for the money. But it wasn’t in the budget the House passed 83-13 Friday morning.
“I think this budget lacks inspiration,” he said.
Morris pressed for the train because it helps get people out of their cars, off of Interstate 5 and traveling into the communities.
Morris said he will continue to lobby House members for when the transportation budget is amended and bounces back for further consideration.
Rep. Dave Quall, D-Mount Vernon, joined Morris in voting down the House transportation bill. The second train would flesh out the run and make it more than a tourist run, he said.
Rep. Kelly Barlean, R-Langley, voted favorably on the budget, yet said he supports the second train.
The local representatives say their hopes are pinned on Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, inserting the $6.3 million into the transportation budget.
Haugen heads the Senate Transportation Committee. She was in committee hearings Friday and unavailable for comment, but her fellow senator from the area affirmed her support for a second train.
“We have to have it if we’re going to get people out of their cars,” said Sen. Harriet Spanel, D-Bellingham.
The Canadians are preparing to improve the track from White Rock to Vancouver, some 34 miles between the international border and the city. The second train would enable passengers to travel as far south as Eugene without switching trains, providing a direct link between Oregon and British Columbia.
Regardless of whether the second train runs anytime soon, progress continues on developing a transportation center in downtown Mount Vernon, Richendrfer said.
The center would include an Amtrak station, a SKAT transit station, a Greyhound bus station and possibly space for a taxi station and a connection to some kind of water recreation.
Richendrfer said the motivation behind the center is creating a transportation hub, attractions for travelers and transportation links for people arriving by train.
“We are building for the future,” Richendrfer said.