Restart of Amtrak Cascades train route from Vancouver to Seattle delayed

May 16 2022, 8:50 pm

The segment of the Amtrak Cascades route that crosses the Canada-US border to reach Pacific Central Station at the edge of downtown Vancouver will not be restarting anytime soon.

Early this year, Amtrak stated it was conducting re-qualification train runs necessary to resume service north of Seattle, with the aim of restarting scheduled passenger trains to Vancouver this spring.

However, on Friday, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) indicated Amtrak is unable to commit to a restart date due to staffing shortages.

In a bulletin, WSDOT states Amtrak informed the state governments of Washington and Oregon there would be no train service to Canada until late 2022 at the very earliest.

“WSDOT and Oregon Department of Transportation expressed extreme dissatisfaction with his plan,” reads the bulletin, adding that both governments have requested the train operator to at least begin offering service a few days a week on an interim basis until full service can resume in December 2022.

It was stated that Amtrak is “committed to an earlier start date if employee resources allow.” They are currently facing staffing shortages with conductors, on-board service staff, and mechanics.

The company is seeing progress with hiring more staff, but this new workforce is required to complete extensive training programs before beginning their jobs.

The Amtrak Cascades route north of Seattle — serving Edmonds, Everett, Stanwood, Mount Vernon, Bellingham, and Vancouver — has been suspended since May 2020, when the Canada-US border closed to non-essential travel.

Until train service is restored, daily bus service between Vancouver and Seattle will continue to be offered through Amtrak’s ticketing system.

amtrak cascades train

The entire Amtrak Cascades corridor from Vancouver, BC, to Eugene, Oregon. (Amtrak)

The Cascades train corridor runs a distance of 752 km (467 miles) from Pacific Central Station and ends at Eugene, Oregon, with a total of 18 stops, including Bellingham, downtown Seattle, and downtown Portland.

The entire train journey from Vancouver to Eugene is about 10 hours and 30 minutes.

Each one-way trip between Vancouver and Seattle is just over three hours in optimal conditions, with this segment of the route running twice daily Cascades trains prior to the pandemic. The train service usually takes longer than driving due to its slow speeds at long sections, indirect route, and prioritization for freight trains. Fares were roughly US$40 each way from Vancouver to Seattle.

Based on statistics from WSDOT, ridership on the entire Cascades route from Vancouver to Eugene steadily increased in recent years, with total annual ridership reaching 672,000 in 2015 to 753,000 in 2019.

In the year before the pandemic, about 193,000 passengers travelled on the segment between Vancouver and Seattle, 499,000 between the Seattle and Portland segment, and the remaining 61,000 travelled across both segments.

pacific central station vancouver

Pacific Central Station in downtown Vancouver. (Kenneth Chan/Daily Hive)

The segment from Vancouver to Bellingham saw its average capacity utilization grow from 44.9% of seats filled in 2015 to 48.6% in 2019. However, this capacity utilization rate was the lowest for any of the segments along the Cascades corridor, with the other 12 segments seeing rates of between 52.6% and 64.4% seats filled.

To attract more ridership through an improved passenger experience, Amtrak is planning to replace the existing fleet of three-decade-old Cascades passenger cars with a new fleet of 48 passenger cars with a modern design and ample creature-comfort amenities. The new trains are expected to go into service between 2025 and 2026.

Over the longer term, the governments of British Columbia, Washington state, and Oregon are proposing to build a high-speed passenger rail service linking Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, and other communities in between. In March 2022, Washington state’s legislature approved spending US$150 million to proceed with advanced planning work for the high-speed rail project, and this could potentially be paired with US$700 million in matching funds from US President Joe Biden’s administration’s national infrastructure plan.

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