An extra Amtrak train running between Seattle and Vancouver will arrive ahead of schedule after the Canada Border Services Agency agreed to drop a contentious fee.
The additional passenger train, originally scheduled to run between the two cities during the Olympics in February, is now set to begin in August and continue after the Games as a pilot project, officials of Amtrak and Canada’s ministry of public safety said Friday.
“Amtrak is very excited to participate in this, and truly is looking forward to the startup of the second frequency to Vancouver in preparation for the Olympics,” spokeswoman Vernae Graham said.
“We’ve always been in favour of that second frequency,” Graham said. “We were just waiting for Washington and the B.C. government to iron out all the various issues.”
Amtrak, the state of Washington and the Canada Border Services Agency had been been negotiating for months.
The border services agency had insisted Amtrak cover the costs of border service agents required to check passengers. The agency now has agreed to waive those fees, said Chris McCluskey, spokesman for Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan.
The service would be a test to evaluate if the level of traffic is high enough to justify the customs services required, the ministry said in a release.
Andrew Wood, deputy rail and marine director of Washington state, said, “We’re pleased to see this, and we will be looking at how quickly we can start.”
He said he hopes the service will become permanent.
An Amtrak train now leaves Vancouver at 5:45 p.m. and arrives in Seattle at 10:05 p.m. The return train departs Seattle at 7:40 a.m. and arrives in Vancouver at 11:35 a.m.
The original proposal had called for an extra train to run only during the Olympics, with a train leaving Vancouver at 7:30 a.m. to Seattle and a train arriving in Vancouver at 10:45 p.m. from Seattle.
Graham said she couldn’t confirm the schedule for the extended pilot. She said the schedule would be convenient for people attending Olympic events.
Washington state owns the trains and subsidizes $11 million of the annual costs for the portion of the Amtrak Cascades line that runs between Vancouver and Portland, Ore., and British Columbia and Amtrak also subsidize the costs, Wood said.
Transportation Minister Shirley Bond said in a news release that the additional service would carry 50,000 passengers and inject $13 million into the B.C. economy in its first full year. “That’s why we invested almost $3 million into upgrading railway tracks north of the U.S. border to prepare for the expansion of service,” she said.
Source: By Richard J. Dalton Jr., Vancouver Sun