Thursday, April 16, 2015

Funding challenges for Amtrak Cascades rail service, BC government not helping

Amtrak Cascades passenger rail service runs between Vancouver, BC and Eugene, Oregon with major stops in Seattle and Portland. Over the years, ridership along the corridor has increased from 94,000 in 1994 to a peak of 848,000 in 2011. Ridership in 2013 and 2014 was down.

Seattle, Portland, and Vancouver, BC are the top three stations as far as passenger volume goes. In 2014, ridership was 781,000. One of the major reasons for the dip in ridership was a scheduling change to some trains operating between Eugene, Oregon and Portland. This caused a massive drop in ridership. While the scheduling change was well-intentioned, due to how passenger rail works in the US, it has caused massive on-time performance issues.

In 2013, the US federal government stopped subsidizing the Amtrak Cascades service, leaving state governments to fill the funding gap. While Washington State has come to the table to maintain and grow service, both BC and Oregon have not.

To the credit of the Canadian federal government, they subsidize the cost of border services for the twice-daily Amtrak Cascades trains that operate in Canada.

The Oregon, Washington, and BC governments signed a Memorandum of Understanding in 2012 agreeing to manage the Amtrak Cascades corridor collectively.

With our provincial government’s recent decisions around public transit including defunding BC Transit and BC Ferries, while abdicating responsibility for transit in Metro Vancouver, it should come as no surprise that the province doesn’t seem interested in upholding the Memorandum of Understanding it signed.

According to a documentation from the Oregon Department of Transportation:

ODOT [Oregon Department of Transportation] and WSDOT [Washington State Department of Transportation] met with a BCMoTI [BC Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure] representative on several occasions. The representative indicated that no funding is available to help pay for the Amtrak Cascades service in British Columbia. In an effort to control rising costs, Wi-Fi service on the Amtrak Cascades in British Columbia was terminated on Oct. 1, 2014. ODOT and WSDOT have engaged the Amtrak Government Affairs office to aid cost sharing negotiations with British Columbia. Meetings have been held with the Office of the Premier, BCMoTI, and the City of Vancouver. ODOT and WSDOT will attend future meetings with these entities.

ODOT and WSDOT will begin working on a joint business plan for the Amtrak Cascades service in January 2015.

Amtrak Cascade service provides about $20 million per year in economic benefit to BC, it would be a shame if provincial inaction puts this service in jeopardy.

1 comment:

James Hansen said...

It is infuriating how little BC cares about this rail. With some collaboration we might have seen some world-class upgrades to the line. I'd love to see a french TGV-style high speed rail link between Vancouver and Seattle - would make for some nice day trips!