Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Amtrak Cascades is North America's busiest cross-border passenger rail route

Earlier last month, I posted about Amtrak Cascades which is a passenger rail service that runs between Vancouver, BC and Eugene, Oregon. Seattle and Portland are major stops along the route. Ridership along the whole corridor peaked in 2011.

While I was doing some research last week, I came across the website for the Transportation Border Working Group. This group consists of Canadian and American federal, state, and provincial transportation agencies. Every year they host a plenary session. The last session was in March. Amtrak presented at that meeting on its cross-border rail service; the slides from that presentation were posted online.

Amtrak Canadian Border Crossing Ridership, 2002-2014. Select graph to enlarge.

One of the slides shows ridership at the border for their international routes. Amtrak’s Maple Leaf service goes between New York and Toronto; its Adirondack services between New York and Montreal.

Even though New York, Toronto, and Montreal are in high-ridership rail corridors for domestic travel, the majority of Amtrak’s trans-border ridership is on the west coast.

There is a saying, built it and they will come. In 2009, Amtrak introduced a second daily round-trip train servicing Vancouver, BC. There was a massive spike in ridership when that service was introduced. While ridership at the border dipped in 2012 and 2013, it is once again rising back to 2011 levels.

Even though the BC government signed a Memo of Understanding to jointly manage the Amtrak Cascades corridor in 2012, it appears that the province hasn't kept up with their end of the deal. This isn’t a surprise considering the province also signed a Memo of Understanding in 2010 with Metro Vancouver mayors to provide long-term, stable funding to TransLink. Instead, we got a referendum.

Back to Amtrak Cascades, right now all border processed for the Canadian Border Services Agency is done at Pacific Central Station in Vancouver. US pre-inspection is done at Pacific Central, but customs for all US-bound trains is still done on the train, at the border. This can cause service delays, and results in longer travel times.

Amtrak would like to see all customs done at Pacific Central station as it will provide for better reliability and fast travel times.

1 comment:

Brendan Dawe said...

I've always thought that Cascades ridership would be better served with a terminus at Waterfront. While hitherto traversing the Burrard Inlet Line would have been unacceptably slow, with some now possible improvements to the line and coming grade separation once Malkin is put through, it will be much more easy to run trains through to Waterfront. In addition, there's an existing, fenced in, disused track long enough to accommodate Talgo trainsets which is in between the headhouse and the Expo line tail tracks, which could be re-purposed as a pre-cleared intercity platform. Customs and Border Enforcement officers could travel quickly up from their bases at the Airport via the Canada Line. Waterfront Station delivers passengers into the heart of Downtown, and provides one seat connections to anywhere in the region served by rapid transit, while offering a short walk to the helicopter terminal, the sea-plane terminal, and the cruise ship terminal. The big advantage that Pacific Central has beyond incumbency is it's Intercity Bus Terminal, but it is only an 8 minute connection away.