An appeal for improved passenger train service

The recent attempt by George W. Bush and his Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta to shut down Amtrak was a failure. One of the sillier ideas to come out of this administration was blocked in the House of Representatives by Republicans from the rural U.S.

Although Amtrak was established by a Republican administration (Nixon), Republicans from Reagan to the present have had Amtrak on their hit list. “$2-per-gallon gasoline? No problem, we'll shut down your passenger trains.”

The reason I've chosen to take up this particular topic is because I'm a regular user of Amtrak's Vancouver-Seattle service. From the comfort standpoint, I much prefer trains to buses, and Amtrak's fares are in the same ballpark as Greyhound's.

It's in the interest of the governments of both British Columbia and Washington State to encourage people to use public transportation instead of driving passenger cars, and moving people between Vancouver, Seattle, and Portland is part of this picture.

Washington State has done a good job with this. They fund the Vancouver-Seattle train, another train from Seattle to Bellingham, and they just announced the addition of a third train to the Seattle-Portland route. (this doesn't include the Seattle-Los Angeles train, which Washington State doesn't contribute to.) Washington State has also been funding track improvements, which will reduce travel times in the Bellingham-Portland corridor. New stations have been built in Bellingham, Mount Vernon, and Everett, and the King Street Station in Seattle is getting a renovation.

The new stations in towns north of Seattle are an obvious indication that Washington State wants more trains running through them. What's the holdup? The B.C. government.

The Amtrak people want track improvements in Delta, but the B.C. Government, borrowing a page from the Bush administration, is more interested in shutting down passenger trains than subsidizing them. One could try telling them that passenger trains from Seattle would be helpful in bringing people here for the 2010 Olympics, but this line of reasoning didn't stop them from discontinuing passenger service on the B.C. Rail line from North Vancouver to Whistler. What might help is some more prodding from Vancouver and other Lower Mainland municipalities, and from the tourism industry.

Here's another problem that affects me personally. There are no stops for picking up and dropping off passengers between Vancouver and Bellingham. This means that every time I take the trip to Seattle, I have to take the Skytrain from New Westminster to Main Street, get on the train, then ride it back to New Westminster. (The Amtrak trains cross the Fraser River using the old railroad bridge next to the Patullo Bridge.) The Vancouver-Seattle trains that existed prior to 1981 made stops in New Westminster and White Rock. The passenger stations that were used are still there. The one in White Rock is a museum, and the one in New Westminster, which is within walking distance of the Braid Skytrain station, is used for office space by Burlington Northern Santa Fe.

Let's put these facilities back in use, and make travelling by train between the Lower Mainland and Seattle more convenient for more people. The existing Amtrak Cascades service has reduced carbon monoxide and nitrous oxide emissions by hundreds of tons per year. Everybody benefits from this.

Article from the Washington State Department of Transportation: Second Amtrak Cascades Train to Canada

Amtrak Cascades site:


0 #2 Andrew 2005-07-13 03:06
While I would certainly support the infrastructure upgrade investments...
It would certainly make alot of sense to have the customs officials do their inspections while the train is rolling. This would be one clear time advantage over driving and even competitive with flying (Vancouver-Seattle)
This is the way it was often done in Europe (before they got rid of customs).
It would only by marginally more expensive than having the officers sitting at the border waiting for the train to come.

The distance between Seattle and Vancouver is an ideal one for train travel... this route should be encouraged.
0 #1 Jon 2005-07-12 06:48
Hey there,

Awesome piece. Fully support everything except there are a couple thoughts I've got after reading:

1) Requesting stops in New Westminster and White Rock are valid, except for one major factor: Customs. Currently, Canada Customs inspects everyone at Pacific Central, because they have the facilities there to fence the train in, and control access. Also, the US Customs agents also do their scans of the passengers prior to boarding as well at Pacific Central. Not really feasible at intermediate Canadian stops in NW and WR.

2) While the BC Government could do a little more to pitch in and help, I'm sure there's a couple other factors at play here. Namely, Rocky Mountaineer Vacations. These guys are so vehemently against any sort of public good trains so they can get more profits from being a monopoly. See Via Rail's attempts to get a Calgary-Vancouv er run restarted and see what I mean.

3) I've ridden the train out of Vancouver to the States a few times before 9/11 and after 9/11. Before, the US Customs agents would board the train in Blaine and do their inspections while the train was rolling south to Bellingham, where they would exit and get a ride back to Blaine. Efficient, pretty easy to schedule for, and doesn't hold the train up.

Except, the last time I rode (early January of 2004), they stopped the train and stayed at Blaine until the inspections were over. Doesn't help scheduling, reduces the passengers want to ride the train again since they're being held up just like the motorists on I-5, etc. etc. At least we didn't have to get off the train and go through some facility like I have when I've taken a Trailways bus from Surrey to Seattle back in 97.

I'm curious though...Why doesn't BNSF front any sort of money to this venture...The tracks were absolutely horrid before we got into Bellingham, especially in BC. 10mph, train rocking back and forth so badly that I'm sure some people got bruises due to the shoulder-hittin g-wall scheme involved.

Oh well, we can never count on governments to actually think with their heads...

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