Re: Amtrak stop would be well-received here, July 28.
Kudos to Frank Bucholtz for his excellent column.
Having trains serve White Rock – and Surrey – makes perfect economic sense. The population and the market are increasingly in the suburbs, and ours is one of the fastest growing in the country.
Amtrak knows the value of suburban stations: its Vancouver trains pick up and drop off customers in Edmonds and Everett, north of Seattle. Otherwise, why else would they make these stops? Would those communities want them if there were no local benefits?
Bucholtz is right on the scheduling issue. Speeding up the service in B.C. will not be easy or inexpensive. The options are relocating the rail line or substantially upgrading the existing route, including replacing bridges and trestles across Mud Bay. The price tags for either would be in the millions, if not hundreds of millions.
There would not make much sense in putting in a new station – which could cost $5 million or more – only to rip it out if it was decided to move the tracks. The cost of extending the promenade to the U.S. border and Crescent Beach will depend on whether there will be a rail line in place, though both can coexist very nicely.
He is also correct in identifying customs as a major stumbling block. Under today’s practices, a new station would need costly facilities to pre-clear departing and process arriving passengers in a secure facility, like those at smaller airports and at the Clipper docks in Victoria.
Processing passengers en route, which he suggests, makes the most sense. This practice permits faster, more attractive operations and lower station costs. The Great Northern – later BN – passenger trains that served White Rock had this, from 1950 to their termination in 1971.
There is no excuse not to have on-board customs checks, even in today’s post-9-11 environment. Other nations have experienced terrorism, conflict and smuggling issues over many years, yet they have on-board checks on their trains. Look at the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland that suffered thousands of lives lost, untold wounds and countless attacks during “The Troubles.” Yet Iarnrod Eireann and Translink – Northern Ireland’s transit agency – jointly run the Dublin-Belfast Enterprise trains with intermediate stops and on-board inspections even though the rail line itself was a target during the decades-long conflict.
If the Irish and U.K. and Northern Ireland authorities can make on-board inspections and enable intermediate station stops on its train service facing their realities, why can’t the Canadian and U.S. governments do likewise?
The province and the State of Washington, which pays most of the Amtrak service’s bills, signed an agreement in 2010 calling for higher-speed rail. Shouldn’t the province, perhaps at the urging of the cities of White Rock and Surrey, commence on a detailed engineering study of the options – including an intermediate station?
In the meantime, how about the province, cities and state look at ways to better promote the Cantrail bus, which connects with Amtrak at Seattle that stops at the Pacific Inn, to/from the Surrey/White Rock market? Or examine instituting a connecting van from Surrey/White Rock to meet Amtrak trains at Bellingham?
By employing a combination of detailed longer-range planning and short-term steps, Amtrak service can be restored here. Who is willing to get on board?
Brendan B. Read, White Rock