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Enhancing Amtrak Cascades

Transport Action Canada and Transport Action B.C. were recently invited to participate in consultation meetings and comment on the new Amtrak Cascades Service Development Plan (SDP) by the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), which has been driving the planning and funding of the service. Below is our written submission, which we have also discussed and shared with American rail advocates.

The Cascades corridor, from Vancouver, BC through Seattle and Tacoma, WA to Portland and Eugene OR, USA has long had the growing and evolving need for – and the promise of – higher-speed rail (HrSR) and potentially high-speed rail (HSR).

Population growth, traffic, including border congestion and delays, and a worsening environment make improving rail an urgent necessity, building on the backbone of the existing Amtrak Cascades service, and particularly to and from Canada.

Enabling faster, competitive passenger rail, both HrSR and HSR, faces many serious and complex-and-costly to resolve challenges in the Cascades corridor. Among them: difficult geology and geography worsened by climate change-driven extreme weather, leading to landslides and washout risks; shared tracks with long freight trains that cause community access and pedestrian safety issues; aging and congested bridges; freight rail conflicts; and Customs clearance, particularly U.S. slowdowns.

However, with the Cascades corridor having been placed first in line for Amtrak’s new fleet order and expected to receive the first new “Airo” trains in 2026, there is also an opportunity to transform the service.

Our recommendations include adding an additional mid-day round trip for better onward connectivity in BC, advancing the replacement of the New Westminster Rail Bridge, a flyover to avoid conflicts with freight trains heading to Deltaport, and moving forward with the long-discussed White Rock Bypass.

The consultation process also involved All Aboard Washington, All Aboard Northwest, Solutionary Rail, Climate Rail, and the Rail Passengers Association.

Image: Rendering of the new Amtrak Cascades Airo. (Courtesy of WSDOT / Amtrak)

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