Cascadia team pushes new Amtrak train as critical step toward high-speed rail

Vancouver's latest rail arrival: Bombardier's Flexity ready for Games service between Olympic Village and Granville Island.

Vancouver's latest rail arrival: Bombardier's Flexity ready for Games service between Olympic Village and Granville Island. With Canada Line's success and a second Amtrak train, can we build momentum for higher speed rail to Seattle?

The dream of a high speed rail connection along the Cascadia corridor from Vancouver through to Seattle and Portland may be far in the future, but a critical step toward that goal is much closer: a permanent second daily Amtrak train from Vancouver to Seattle that could add $20 million a year to the city’s economy.

Tireless Washington State rail advocates led by the Cascadia Centre’s Bruce Agnew are determined to make the second train, approved as a pilot project during the 2010 Games, into a permanent feature of the region’s transportation network, a logical stepping stone to a third train, track improvements and ultimately, high speed rail.

That’s like adding another cruise ship at a time when the cruise industry is  faltering in Vancouver for a number of reasons.

Agnew convened a high level group of rail, transportation and tourism experts in Vancouver yesterday to nail down marketing plans for the new service, which is already drawing solid bookings in the run-up to the Games. They were welcomed by Mayor Gregor Robertson, who’s made the Cascadia rail opportunity a top priority.

It should be an easy sell in a rail-happy city like Vancouver, that loves Skytrain, is flocking to the Canada Line and is welcoming the Olympic streetcar program, partnership of the city, Bombardier and the CMHC.

But the Cascadia advocates, pumped up by the prospect of securing a share of the billions of dollars on offer from the Obama administration to build rail in the United States, have been held back by a shortage of BC partners to make the necesssary arguments in Vancouver and Ottawa.

That started to change yesterday as Tourism Vancouver’s Rick Antonson joined the discussion on marketing the second Amtrak train. Modest changes to border crossing rules could make the train’s future even more secure.

Cascadia’s strategy has been to pursue incremental improvements that build ridership and awareness. That approach has secured nearly $1 billion in investment over a 20-year period on the US side of the border and some changes in Canada.

But much more is needed on BC’s side if we are ever going to find a suitable substitute for air and automobile travel to the US Northwest.