Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Improving Amtrak Cascade service and moving trains service in South Surrey/White Rock

When I took Amtrak to Portland in November, I read the Draft Washington State Rail Plan. The document outlines the current condition, and future vision, for both freight and passenger rail service in that state. While interesting to look at the vision for freight rail, Washington State has the most direct control over passenger rail service as it and Oregon subsidize about 45% of the cost of Amtrak Cascade service. The State of Washington is also investing about $800 million to improve travel time, increase reliability, and expand service of Amtrak Cascades. In fact once complete in 2017, there will be:

-Two additional round trip trains between Seattle and Portland; for a total of six daily round trip trains
-Improved on-time performance and reliability
-About 10 minutes travel time savings between Seattle and Portland

You can check out the projects that Washington State is building by visiting their passenger rail website.

Amtrak Cascade service has been a complete success with annual ridership starting at under 200,000 in 1994, growing 836,000 in 2012. The $800 million investment in passenger rail will allow ridership to grow even more.

Vancouver, BC is the second busiest stop for the Amtrak Cascade service with an annual ridership of about 150,000 in 2012. Portland and Seattle are tide in first place with an annual ridership of about 450,000 each. There is clearly a demand for rail service in Vancouver, but it only has two daily round trip trains. The long-term vision is to increase that to four daily round trip trains, but the existing condition of rail infrastructure in BC is preventing increased service.

One of the costs to providing Amtrak service to Canada is the fee to cross the border. I have to give the federal government credit for doing its part by waving the fee for one of the two round trip trains for border services. One of the other areas that is limiting growth in train service is the slow, winding rail corridor through White Rock and Ocean Park in Surrey.

Current rail alignment through South Surrey/White Rock. Possible new alignments could be near 176nd Street, outside of the urban areas. Click map to enlarge.

Because both passenger and freight service go right through a densely populated area, Surrey and White Rock want rail service moved. Moving rail service would be a triple-win. It would allow faster passenger rail service and open the door to increased Amtrak Cascade service, it would speed up freight trains, and it would get rail traffic out of the area so people are not exposed to health hazards including the risk of derailments, train emissions, and collisions.

Moving the rail corridor would also show Canada's commitment to passenger rail service which also has a positive effect on our economy. In fact in BC, each daily Amtrak train provides at least a $14 million in economic benefit annually.

Surrey is hosting an online “Re-imagining the Corridor: From Rails to Trails” consultation about the White Rock/South Surrey rail corridor. I suggest you fill out the questionnaire.

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