Is it too late for a train stop in White Rock?
White Rock Coun. Doug McLean said he disagrees with abandoning the initiative to have the Amtrak stop in the community, although a city announcement pronounced the idea all-but-dead last week.
“I feel it’s an idea we should still keep going – maybe not spend a lot of money on it, but continue to talk to the interested parties,” he told Peace Arch News Wednesday.
McLean authored the original motion to revive the Amtrak stop proposal at a council meeting in December 2009. Efforts had been stalled since 2001 in the aftermath of the 9-11 attacks.
“I still think it’s the will of the city and I do think it should continue to be one of our goals as a city,” McLean said.
In May 2001, under the leadership of former mayor Hardy Staub, White Rock won a letter of agreement from Amtrak to pursue a new regular stop in the city. But the initiative perished that fall as anti-terrorist measures and the security of borders became paramount in the mind of U.S. officials.
Last week, a city release said discussions with Amtrak, the Washington State Department of Transportation and the B.C. Ministry of Transportation had been derailed by the U.S. authorities’ insistence that a new stop anywhere in the Cascades corridor was not an option at this time.
Reasons cited included an increased journey time incompatible with high-speed rail objectives, customs and immigration issues, increased capital costs and changes in funding sources for rail transportation.
But while McLean acknowledged there would be many hurdles to overcome, he said he believes the original discussions with Amtrak in 2001 showed that a White Rock stop would not add significantly to travel times between Vancouver and Seattle.
Further, McLean said, he takes a long view in which gaining access to a major rail route makes increasing sense for the south of the Fraser region.
“I think there’s a lot of discussion in the region about the lack of transportation sources,” he said, noting it’s not uncommon for communities in Europe and even in eastern Canada to utilize regional rail transportation.
“I think there’s support from municipalities south of the Fraser to access the regional train – Amtrak.”
“The region is growing rapidly and will soon outgrow the City of Vancouver. It makes a lot of sense that it has access to the rail route. It also fits in with our green initiatives.”
And if there were to be a new station anywhere on the route, the most logical place would be White Rock, on the Canada-U.S. border, McLean said.
McLean said he understands from city staff reports that the Canada Border Services Agency is currently re-examining the policy of pre-clearance in Vancouver and studying a return to the original model of customs and immigration clearances at the border.
“It used to be that way – people used to be cleared on the train passing through the border. So there are a number of things that could happen (that could make a stop in White Rock more possible).
“In my mind, I haven’t abandoned the idea,” he said.
“I continue to support the effort.”