Train riders, rejoice. Amtrak Cascades announced July 1 it will restart train service to all stops north of Seattle, including Bellingham and Vancouver, British Columbia, in September. The reopening date of the 18-stop, 467-mile route was previously slated for December.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic forced the U.S.-Canada border to close to all non-essential travel in May 2020, the Cascades route has only operated from Seattle to Eugene, Oregon. The current route only serves 12 of its 18 original stops, as Amtrak urges potential passengers to use its bus services to travel north of Seattle.
Starting in September, trains will once again pull into stations in Edmonds, Everett, Stanwood, Mount Vernon, Bellingham and Vancouver, B.C.
The route garnered more than 800,000 yearly riders from 2016 to 2019 before travel restrictions and border closures forced the rail company to halt operations for nearly half the line. Ridership fell precipitously due to the pandemic, dropping 78.1% from 2019 to 2021, according to Amtrak ridership statistics. Revenue fell 80% compared to 2019.
The original route served two daily round trips from Seattle to Vancouver, B.C., four daily round trips from Seattle to Portland, and two daily round trips from Seattle to Eugene.
Beginning in May 2021, Amtrak Cascades resumed service with two daily round trips from Seattle to Eugene, and three daily round trips from Seattle to Portland. However, due to “staffing shortages,” Amtrak could not service routes north of Seattle, only providing rail transportation to a fraction of the Interstate-5 corridor route, according to its website.
After receiving a $1 billion bailout by Congress in March 2020, Amtrak furloughed more than 20% of its workforce, nearly 4,000 people, in response to drastically reduced ridership and international border closures caused by the pandemic. Amtrak had tentatively stated that the Cascade route would be back at full service by December 2022, due to the extensive training of new conductors and staff.
“Earlier plans called for a December return to Canada,” the July 1 Tweet read. “But Amtrak was able to advance the schedule.”
Many in the region, including the Washington state Legislature, believe more people will be traveling through the metropolitan northwest by rail. Senate Bill 5974, signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee on March 25, approved a $16 billion transportation package that included $150 million dedicated to planning the construction of high-speed railways from Vancouver, Washington, to Bellingham.
With gas prices at an all-time high and environmental impacts in the Pacific Northwest, a fully functioning Amtrak Cascades line three months ahead of schedule should come as a pleasant surprise.
This story was updated at 6:18 p.m. July 5 to clarify the $16 billion transportation package.