April 19, 2024

Organizations Detail Rail Infrastructure Needs

All Aboard Washington is only one of many organizations that submitted comments on the Draft Amtrak Cascades Preliminary Service Development Plan (SDP) proposed by the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), which expands the current Cascades six round-trips to 16 round-trips per day between Seattle and Portland, six round-trips per day between Seattle, Bellingham and Vancouver BC, and six round-trips per day between Portland and Eugene OR.

Here are a few of interest. If you would like us to post or link to your organiztion's comments, contact us.

Pacific NorthWest Economic Region (PNWER)

The Pacific NorthWest Economic Region (PNWER) is a public/private non-profit created by statute in 1991 by the states of Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, Montana and Washington, the Canadian provinces and territories of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Northwest Territories and the Yukon.

PNWER Comments to WSDOT Amtrak Cascades Preliminary Service Development Plan

Transport Action British Columbia

From: Brendan Read
Sent: April 17, 2024 8:06 PM
To: [email protected]
Subject: Transport Action British Columbia Comments on Preliminary Amtrak Cascades Service Development Plan (SDP)

Comments by Transport Action British Columbia on Preliminary Amtrak Cascades Service Development Plan (SDP).

Presented by: Brendan Read, Director, Transport Action British Columbia, and Director, Transport Action Canada

Transport Action British Columbia ( https://bc.transportaction.ca/  ) represents British public transportation customers. We are part of a nationwide organization, Transport Action Canada ( https://www.transportaction.ca/ ). We would like to thank you for asking for our engagement in this critical study.  Our involvement in the Amtrak Cascades corridor goes back nearly 45 years. We supported the Pacific International and worked with our U.S. counterparts as well as with the Canadian governments to reinstate, expand, and improve passenger rail on this corridor since the early 1990s. That includes the campaign for and to retain the second Amtrak Cascades train for and after the 2010 Winter Olympics. We have also worked on seeking a border-area station.

We see and very much appreciate the growing necessity for Amtrak Cascades also on a personal level as many of our members regularly visit the Seattle area for family, recreation, entertainment, and for business, and on all modes of transportation, including Amtrak Cascades out of Vancouver and park/riding on it at Bellingham. We are also aware of the community impacts of rail service. I once lived in White Rock and served as member and vice-chair of the city’s transportation committee in 2010-2012. So, we can appreciate both benefits and the challenges of making successful cost-effective service improvements. 

  1. We strongly agree that improved Amtrak Cascades passenger train service into Canada is not possible without the active support of the Canadian (Federal, Provincial, municipal/regional) governments and, where applicable, First Nations). We are prepared to support your efforts with our governments in the manner that would most productively move these improvements forward.
  1. We strongly agree with your Chapter 4 Analysis of Preliminary Alternatives, pages 22 and 31 that an all-rail (E) versus rail+bus (C) alternative will be more successful. The combined rail+bus journey times, the additional transfers, and the Customs and traffic delays at the border in both directions will not make the rail+bus combination as attractive as driving. We note that such a rail+bus connection at Bellingham has been tried and was not successful. We would like to point out that we believe that most customers who prefer not to drive will take the bus directly between Seattle and Vancouver even if the journey is longer. When I’ve travelled to Seattle from White Rock it was very tempting to keep driving on I-5 rather than turning off at Bellingham and navigate the roads to board the train.

We welcome the installation of long-needed Customs preclearance at Pacific Central Station in Vancouver, B.C. that will eliminate the long delays at the border and make the schedules more reliable. We urge that all parties work together to make further improvements at Pacific Central, like for train access and platforms. We also note that CN has been expanding capacity of its rail line from New Westminster into Vancouver. There may be additional investments required to support existing and certainly expanded and faster Amtrak Cascades service that WSDOT has previously identified.

Pacific Central station needs faster, more direct transit access from False Creek, Kitsilano, and the West Side, with connections to the Broadway Subway SkyTrain that will eventually reach UBC. And also from Chinatown, Gastown, and downtown Vancouver, whether by bus or by the long-proposed downtown streetcar. The station sits at the edge of downtown and is not close to where we believe the majority of customers will want to travel.

  1. The infrastructure needs in Canada are complex, involving multiple operators, and are expensive to meet. From our observations they include, but are not limited to:

--Slow speeds, pedestrian intrusion (White Rock, also Crescent Beach), grade crossing safety, landsides, and increased water damage risk from climate-emergency-driven extreme weather around the Semiahmoo Peninsula.

We note there that there are strong community concerns about the heavy coal railfreight traffic that has blocked access to Crescent Beach and about the hazardous chemicals being transported in mixed freight trains near heavily populated and well-visited areas through vulnerable wetlands.

--Increasing risk of delays at Colebrook caused by Amtrak Cascades having to cross the Roberts Bank rail line at grade as east-west railfreight traffic increases as a result of Deltaport expansion.

--Slow speeds and delays arising from railfreight congestion at the aging New Westminster Rail Bridge (NWRB).

On that note, we understand that you may be aware of work that is taking place to look at NWRB options. We have reviewed the attached study and are concerned – and are prepared to point out to our governments if you agree – that the speeds are too low for passenger operation. Also, we are concerned that not enough consideration has been given to increased future Amtrak Cascades service (E) as well as future restored VIA Rail service and potentially additional commuter rail.

  1. There needs to be a detailed study of infrastructure improvements and route options from Bellingham into Canada. They can include, but not limited to, the following:

--Hardening the existing BNSF trackway from the border to Colebrook, thereby also allowing higher speeds including (but not limited to) pedestrian and general traffic grade separation, fencing, moving vulnerable sections away from the slopes, and steps to take to prevent storm and wave damage.

--Alternatively, constructing a White Rock rail bypass on the Highway 99 corridor. The bypass would be extremely expensive, require extensive and very expensive construction including possibly in the U.S., and take several years to complete. There is, critically, the process of long overdue Reconciliation with Indigenous peoples in Canada which could lead to the issue of land rights for a new rail line and subsequently reversion of the existing trackway with the Semiahmoo First Nation.

However, such a bypass would provide much faster, more reliable Amtrak Cascades and railfreight services - particularly if combined with a Colebrook under/overpass - while freeing up invaluable land for a cycling/walking path in a growing populated area.

We attached this link to a site published by local advocates that demonstrate the concerns, history, and options.


--If feasible, restoring and connecting the ex-MILW rail line north of Bellingham, with rails+ trails, and rerouting Amtrak Cascades by way of Sumas; there would be no freight traffic on this section. This option preserves Bellingham Amtrak access as compared with the other option of using existing BNSF tracks from Burlington east to the Sumas line and it avoids the expensive and difficult White Rock bypass or trackway hardenings around the Semiahmoo Peninsula and the Colebrook flyover/under.

But it may also require additional track work in Canada, including, potentially, a twinned Mission rail bridge to support the increased volume of trains. And we do acknowledge there may be strong community opposition in the U.S. to the ex-MILW rail line restoration, particularly if properties have to be acquired. However, it may dovetail – and reinforce the need for these other investments to meet growing Canadian freight rail and potentially commuter/regional rail demand. We note that the Province of British Columbia has been extensively studying Fraser Valley commuter/regional rail: including extending the West Coast Express from Mission to Abbotsford. https://dailyhive.com/vancouver/fraser-valley-metro-vancouver-regional-rail-west-coast-express

  1. Consideration should also be given to a border area station with pre/post clearance to capture Amtrak customers from the rapidly growing Fraser Valley region south and east of Vancouver as well as from northern Whatcom County. TransLink is expanding its bus rapid transit (BRT) network, with the provision for future other SkyTrain extensions that could serve such a station.
  1. There should be an examination of downtown Vancouver terminal options as this would impact the demand and cost of expanding Amtrak Cascades. There have been studies underway to expand the ex-CPR Waterfront Station that in our view would provide far more convenient and superior access to customers than the present Pacific Central Station. https://dailyhive.com/vancouver/central-waterfront-waterfront-station-planning-process-vancouver-cost

Waterfront Station lies at the heart of downtown Vancouver, where most people want to go, and is the hub of British Columbia’s mass transit network both TransLink bus, rail, and SeaBus, with commercial air and passenger-only fast ferries nearby. And it is adjacent to the Canada Place cruise ship terminal, with the possibility of Customs-barrier-free in-transit access for Americans between Amtrak Cascades and the Alaska cruise ships.

There will be mounting pressure to relocate Amtrak, VIA, Rocky Mountaineer, and passenger rail maintenance facilities, and intercity bus services as the False Creek Flats area is redeveloped from industrial including rail into high-density housing, institutional, and commercial uses. This would be an opportune time for all parties and governments to work together to decide where best to locate the terminal and support facilities. A share of the considerable proceeds from redevelopment would finance such moves.

  1. Finally, we suggest detailed studies of the markets for potential connecting bus and ferry services that could attract additional customers to Amtrak Cascades. These include, but are not limited to, dedicated Amtrak Thruway shuttle from Tukwila Station to SeaTac Airport that could be expanded to meet all Sounder trains, thereby providing a regional transit asset. Also, into the market feasibility for a fast Bellingham - Victoria, B.C. passenger-only ferry that could enable Victoria, B.C. residents to travel to/from Bellingham, Mount Vernon, Everett, and Seattle and conveniently return the same day by way of Amtrak: which is not possible now by any mode, except air for Victoria-Seattle trips.

Thank you.