Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Amtrak says moving service from Pacific Central to Surrey would cause ridership drop, WSDOT doesn't.

On Monday, I posted about Amtrak Cascade rail service in Metro Vancouver, and the pending introduction of a preclearance facility at Pacific Central Station. This facility will speed up Amtrak rail service by 10 to 20 minutes.

I also mentioned that $503 million to $1,067 million would be needed by 2023 to ensure four daily round-trip trains to service Metro Vancouver. Right now, there are two daily round-trip trains. The lower price option is if Amtrak service terminated at a yet-to-be built station near Scott Road SkyTrain. The pricier option would be to keep the terminus at Pacific Central.

I received feedback from people stating strongly that moving the terminus station from Downtown Vancouver to Surrey would be a bad idea.

One of the reasons why rail is an attractive service is that it can get you from one downtown to another easily, in comfort, and with a predictable schedule. This is important for both business travellers and tourists. This is why trains are popular in several corridor in North America.

For example, by the time you get to an airport, check in, wait for a flight, fly, land, pick up baggage, and get to your final destination, taking a train might actually be faster. It is certainly less stressful. This is why Amtrak Cascade Service, VIA Rail in Ontario and Quebec, and Amtrak service in the Northeastern US are popular.

Moving the terminus station to Scott Road would require people to transfer to the SkyTrain to access downtown (which would actually get you to Downtown Vancouver faster than current Amtrak service), but would remove that downtown-to-downtown convince. It is a well known fact that making people transfer services causes a drop in ridership.

On the other hand if the terminus was moved near Scott Road SkyTrain, it would make accessing the rest of the region more convenient. The station would also be served by the SkyTrain.

The best solution would be to keep the Pacific Central terminus while introducing a new Scott Road station in Surrey. Of course, I doubt that this would ever happen.

The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), in their long-term plan for Amtrak Cascade service, shared a pros/cons list of the various terminus options as follows:

Advantages of keeping the Amtrak Cascades northern terminus at Pacific Central Station
-Proximity to downtown
-Well-established transportation hub with popular amenities

Disadvantages of keeping the Amtrak Cascades northern terminus at Pacific Central Station
-Cost eight times more than moving station to Scott Road
-WSDOT indicates that a suburban terminal would support greater ridership

Advantages of moving the Amtrak Cascades northern terminus to near Scott Road
-Avoid using the 111 year-old Fraser River Rail Bridge which could become out-of-service due to its age
-Better regional access and increased ridership

Disadvantages of moving the Amtrak Cascades northern terminus to near Scott Road
-Amtrak suggests ridership can drop 50% when switching from a downtown to non-downtown station though WSDOT doesn’t believe this will be the case in Metro Vancouver.

More details can be found in Appendix E of the Washington State Long-Range Plan for Amtrak Cascades.

1 comment:

B.Dawe said...

Unfortunately, you can't make two stops, since Canada and US customs have forgotten how to do customs onboard a moving train, and the train has to be sealed until it arrives in the customs cage at the Canadian terminal, or customs has to be done at the border, which is time consuming and inconvenient.

With respect to the costs which you state as 8 times higher for Pacific Central, by far the *biggest* cost was the New Westminster Railway Bridge.

I don't think that it's fair to lump that cost in. According to the Gateway Council planning documents, the New Westminster Railway bridge was already at capacity a few years ago. This was only kicked down the road by the CN-CP co-production agreement which enabled CN and CP to make more efficient use of the Vancouver terminal railways, but with increasing Vancouver-bound trade and the grade separation of the Burrard Inlet Line, it still remains the case that something must be done in New Westminster, with or without more Amtraks, as was noted by the Gateway Council