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Amtrak Cascades: Time for a Blaine Station?

Amtrak Cascades train with Horizon cars. Photo by Oregon DOT

Ever since Amtrak restarted its Seattle-Vancouver train service there have been hopes of having it stop at either White Rock, BC or Blaine, WA; which the old international trains did before they ended when Amtrak was created in 1971.

This is an opportunity, and it is one of “turning lemons into lemonade”. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) requires the Amtrak Cascades service to stop at Blaine for up to 25 minutes to conduct a second round of checks, after initial preclearance at Vancouver.

The calls to for make this a proper station stop have increased with the population growth in South Surrey, the southern Fraser Valley, and northwest Washington State;,increasing border delays and highway congestion. Driving into Seattle has worsened with clogged roadways. While Amtrak has a station in Bellingham, access off I-5 is time-consuming.

White Rock has been ruled out for a border station given geographic constraints, which would severely limit parking. Another possibility would be at Colebrook near the Highway 91/99 junction, but this would require Canada to permit armed U.S. CBP officers on our soil.

There is another sticking point and that are the new station requirements by the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), which sponsors the Amtrak Cascades service. When Blaine was being considered for a new station around 12 years ago it reportedly did not meet the population/market size criteria. Also, there would need to be additional track improvements to shorten travel times to make up for the time lost in stopping. Both points that are now moot, with population growth and the need for the train to stop at Blaine anyway, at least in the southbound direction.

However, track upgrades to address major bottlenecks would be welcome. Amtrak Cascades faces delays from east-west Deltaport freight trains at Colebrook, which will only increase with the recently approved port expansion. Canada also needs to move ahead with replacing the aging, slow, congested, and marine-accident-prone single-track New Westminster Rail Bridge that WSDOT has described as the critical stumbling block to expanded passenger train service.

Transport Action British Columbia has long been active on this issue. We are in conversations with our counterpart, All Aboard Washington, to see if we can move forward with a Blaine station.

Photo: Amtrak Cascades train with Horizon cars. Courtesy of Oregon DOT.

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