What’s not to love about riding the rails?

What’s not to love about riding the rails?

BY JON FERRY, THE PROVINCE JULY 6, 2012

Photograph by: Graphics , The Province

I have few grand passions in my life, but train travel is one of them. A train journey can be frustrating (I once spent an entire day stranded on a train in Africa). But it’s invariably interesting and often an absolute delight.

Indeed, I don’t understand why improving rail travel in this eco-aware, tourist-dependent part of the world has to be such a slow, laborious grind.

I mean, running regular trains between Vancouver and Seattle, and between Vancouver and Squamish ai??i?? and even down alongside Highway 1 from Chilliwack ai??i?? should be a no-brainer.

Just ask any West Coast Express regular how stress-free train travel can be.

I especially don’t understand why, despite all the high-level talk about “high speed” rail, it still can take nearly 12 hours to go from Vancouver to Eugene, Ore., by train.

I mean we’re not talking about how to find the Higgs boson subatomic particle here.

“The problem we’ve had is that most train discussion is focused around goods movement, which is very important. It hasn’t focused enough on the passenger rail aspects,” said Vancouver Coun. Geoff Meggs, himself a staunch rail booster.

Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts agreed passenger rail in our region is under-utilized.

“There are opportunities,” she told me Thursday. “I mean, if you look at the old inter-urban line, there’s pieces of it that make sense that could be used.”

There has been some progress, though. After years of talks between Canadian and U.S. governments, you can at least go by train from Vancouver to Seattle and back in a day. And the plan is for there to be four round trips by 2023.

What’s needed now is for Lower Mainland rail enthusiasts to get behind the current campaign ai??i?? now supported by Surrey and White Rock councillors and the Surrey Board of Trade ai??i?? to reopen the 100-year-old train station in Blaine, Wash.

This would mean Fraser Valley residents who wanted to take the Amtrak Cascades train to Seattle wouldn’t have to drive all the way to downtown Vancouver to board it. They’d simply cross the border near where they live and park their vehicles at the Blaine station.

“It would serve a catchment area of more than 750,000 people,” noted Bruce Agnew, director of Seattle’s Cascadia Centre, a passenger-rail advocacy group.

Indeed, Agnew told me Thursday that taking flights from Bellingham is now so popular with Lower Mainland residents that Washington state transportation authorities might be persuaded to put in a station there, too.

The only problem is the more stops the train made, the slower the overall Vancouver-to-Seattle journey might become.

And Agnew and others would like to see the time for the trip come down from more than 3A? hours to make it competitive with other travel modes.

With train travel, of course, speed is not everything. As author David Baldacci wrote: “It’s my experience that most folk who ride trains could care less where they’re going. For them, it’s the journey itself and the people they meet along the way.”

Myself, I do like to get where I’m going, and fast. But I also like time for reading, chatting, scenery-viewing and people-watching.

Rail travel is the full meal deal.

jferry@theprovince.com

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