Monumental lobbying effort required to secure $800,000 for Amtrak train

Yesterday’s eleventh hour rescue of Amtrak’s second train to Vancouver was a telling symbol of how far Canada has to go to catch up to the rest of the world when it comes to investing in passenger and freight rail.

On the same day that the Swiss completed a $10 billion high speed rail tunnel under the Alps that is the longest in the world, Canadian politicians held duelling news conferences over an $800,000 customs issue that was holding up a second train from here to Seattle.

The deadline for this crisis was never in doubt. The current pilot program for a second train expired Sept. 30. In late June, when I attended a Cascadia rail conference in Portland, stakeholders on the US were abuzz with the ridership gains they were experiencing along the corridor and already anxious to secure Canadian approval for a permanent second train.

Throughout August and September, I worked with local business organizations who readily joined the campaign to keep the train, bombarding Ottawa with briefs and letters of support. But the Sept. 30 deadline came and went, leaving the US side no choice but to take the matter all the way up the chain, ultimately to the Prime Minister — over $800,000.

Yesterday’s announcement by Stockwell Day and Vic Toews, held less than two hours after federal Liberal heavyweights like John McCallum and Ujjal Dosanjh hosted their own media event in Vancouver, smacked of improvisation. The Conservative cabinet ministers, according the Globe story linked above, were under tremendous pressure from their colleagues to do the obvious and find a solution.

What they didn’t say was that US stakeholders had been more proactive in trying to find solutions on the Canadian side than our own Canadian officials. Rail supporters like Bruce Agnew, of the Cascadia Centre, an organization promoting rail development along the corridor, were working to the very last minute to propose ways around the Canadian impasse.

If it’s this difficult to get $800,000 for a second train, it’s hard to see how national rail policy will improve given the current mindset in Ottawa.