Monday, August 17, 2015

Amtrak service improvement coming to Metro Vancouver

Amtrak Cascade passenger rail service runs between Vancouver, BC and Eugene, Oregon. Major stops along the route include Seattle and Portland. Earlier this spring, I posted about how the US federal government pulled funding from Amtrak Cascade service.

Back in 2012, the BC, Washington State, and Oregon governments signed a Memo of Understanding to jointly manage the rail service. Not surprising, but the BC government hasn't kept up their end of the deal. Right now there are two daily round-trip trains that serve Metro Vancouver. A long-term plan for the Amtrak Cascade service, created by the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) in 2006, envisioned four daily round-trip trains for Metro Vancouver. In order to get to this point, the BC government would have needed to spend $98 to $662 million by now, and $503 to $1,067 million by 2023.

There is a range in pricing because the long-term plan notes that Amtrak Cascade service could terminate at Scott Road SkyTrian station in Surrey. This would be the most cost effective option as it wouldn’t require the replacement of the 111 year old Fraser River Rail Bridge. It would also improve access to Amtrak Cascade service for more people in Metro Vancouver.

Since the BC government isn’t even interested in solving local transit issues in Metro Vancouver, I don’t think the provincial government will help fund improvements to the Amtrak Cascade rail service in the province.

With the US federal and provincial governments' lack of support for the on-going operation of the rail service, Washington State has become the major funder of the service. Luckily, Washington State is working to grow ridership and revenue. By 2017, rail service between Portland and Vancouver will be expanded from four daily round-trip trains to six daily round trips trains. Travel times will also be reduced by about 10 minutes.

Even with the lack of provincial support, Amtrak rail service in Metro Vancouver will be improving. Right now you have to go through a two-step inspection process to be cleared for entry into the US, once at Pacific Central Station, and once at the US border. This slows down service by 10 to 20 minutes. Work has been underway to remove the border inspection by making Pacific Central Station a preclearance facility. This is similar to YVR; you clear US Customs at the airport.

In June of this year, Transport Canada, WSDOT, and Amtrak met a Pacific Central Station. Transport Canada informed WSDOT and Amtrak that the station is now ready to be a preclearance facility. It is now up to US Congress and the Canadian Parliament to official sign-off on a preclearance agreement.

It is good to see that Washington State is continuing to support passenger rail service, it is unfortunate that BC has not kept up its end of the agreement as we could have had much better passenger rail service in Metro Vancouver.

1 comment:

Brendan Dawe said...

Scott Road Station is an absolutely terrible idea, and is in no way more cost effective because New Westminster Rail Bridge needs to replaced with or without Amtrak, and it would be terrible for ridership. WSDOT's own reports note that Amtrak believes that you can lose half your ridership that you would have from a city-center station, but they hand-waive this away.

No one coming from Seattle wants to be dumped into a parking lot in Surrey. Visitors will overwhelmingly want to go to Vancouver, and be told to haul their luggage onto the skytrain which may not be running at all if the evening train is late. In the other direction, where do people who might take the train to the States live? Do you think they're people with multiple cars in their household who live relatively close to the border, or people who live closer to the city center and rely more on transit and walking? Pacific Central is a quick transit or cab trip to more destinations. Scott Road is a long trip to anywhere anyone coming to Vancouver might like to go, and that transfer is going to more uncomfortable then sitting in the comfortable train seat you've already been sitting in for three hours.

Scott Road is a train station to nowhere in intercity terms. Pacific Central isn't perfect, but at least it's near things. If anything, with the coming grade separation of the Burrard Inlet line, they should look at seeing if they can get the trains into Waterfront Station, which is superior again in every way save for lacking intercity buses.