Foot-dragging feds slow train service to Seattle

Foot-dragging feds slow train service to Seattle

By Jon Ferry, The Province October 18, 2010 Comments (6)

The news that Ottawa has finally approved the operation of a second daily train between Vancouver and Seattle for another year is a relief to all those who love trains — and jobs.

Now we need to push for four trains a day, so we can have a proper rail service between the two metro regions, which have a combined population of about seven million. It should have been in place years ago.

The fact is, however, that we — including train lovers and all those who appreciate the economic and environmental benefits of rail travel — will have our work cut out persuading the feds to support such a progressive move.

Until now, the supposedly probusiness Harper government has been busy putting up nothing but roadblocks. It threatened, in fact, to withdraw customs clearance for the second Amtrak train.

And it was only because of a full-court press by high-profile worthies on both sides of the border, including Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, that the Canada Border Services Agency was given the extra $800,000 it claimed it needed to do the job.

Even last week, in announcing the supposed breakthrough, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews stated Ottawa would only extend the customs clearance for the second train until next October. That’s hardly a ringing endorsement of a rail service bringing in millions to Vancouver’s tourism industry.

It’s all too typical of Ottawa’s attitude toward British Columbia. I mean, can you imagine this petty customs snarl-up even being an issue if the extra train were being added between, say, Montreal and New York?

As Vancouver Coun. Geoff Meggs pointed out, the same day Canadian politicians were holding duelling news conferences over the aforementioned $800,000, the Swiss were completing a $10-billion, high-speed rail tunnel through the Alps. That’s how much more seriously the Europeans take all this.

It’s not as if Canadian taxpayers have to put up big bucks for track improvements for the Vancouver-Seattle service. The Americans are doing virtually all the spending, with the line between Blaine, Wash., and downtown Vancouver being basically an add-on.

Indeed, much of the credit for improving this scenic coastal rail service over the years goes to the Discovery Institute’s Cascadia Centre, based in Seattle.

On Friday, centre policy director Bruce Agnew hailed the resolution of the customs issue as “a great victory” because, if it hadn’t been settled, the political momentum for higher-speed trains would have been lost.

Agnew told me the Cascadia Centre would now strive to help the CBSA reduce its inspection costs. It would also press for the multimillion-dollar investment needed to double the rail service from two to four trains a day.

He added, moreover, that eventually there could be high-speed rail between the two cities, possibly via Abbotsford rather than White Rock.

Let’s hope it doesn’t take too long. Travelling by train tends to be far more pleasurable than taking a plane or automobile. And we clearly need more trains in the Lower Mainland to get people out of their cars, especially in the mushrooming Fraser Valley.

The question I have is not whether we can afford to have such trains, but whether we can afford not to.

via Foot-dragging feds slow train service to Seattle.

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