Amtrak Cascades service won't resume soon

Understaffed, rail line points to December 'target' date
May 14, 2022 at 4:36 p.m.

By CDN Staff

What is the long-suspended Amtrak Cascades Seattle-to-Vancouver line waiting for, Christmas? Actually, yes. Or at least close to it.

The nation’s passenger railroad won’t resume Seattle-to-Vancouver service of the Amtrak Cascades train — which in pre-pandemic days stopped in Fairhaven — until a “target date” of December, because the rail line lacks workers, The Seattle Times reported Friday. 

Amtrak earlier this year indicated that its service, closed in March 2020 by pandemic border restrictions, would resume by late spring or summer. But the rail line lacks sufficient trained conductors, mechanics and other personnel to operate the trains that soon, according to a letter to Washington and Oregon rail directors from Ray Lang, an Amtrak vice president, The Times reported.

Roughly 159,000 people per year rode between Seattle and Vancouver, B.C., before the pandemic, or 290,000 when including stations between the big cities, according to the Washington state Department of Transportation. Passenger fares traditionally cover about two-thirds of operation costs, state transportation subsidies cover the rest.

Washington and Oregon transportation officials decried the delay.

“Amtrak’s lack of support for the Amtrak Cascades service cannot continue and Amtrak’s plans to delay the re-start of Canadian service for seven months or more is not acceptable to WSDOT and ODOT,” said a response to Amtrak co-signed by WSDOT Secretary Roger Millar and Oregon transportation Director Kris Strickler, who suggest at least partial service in the meantime.

 “However, the states cannot accept Amtrak’s plan to provide no service at all.”

The delay comes despite the Biden administration’s much-hyped $66 billion allotted in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to catch up on maintenance and spread Amtrak’s national railway service to new cities including Las Vegas, Phoenix, Columbus and Nashville, The Times reported.

U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen of Arlington Saturday called Amtrak’s delay “shortsighted.” 

“The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law included a major investment in passenger rail. Amtrak needs to immediately reconsider its shortsighted decision to delay all Amtrak Cascades service,” Larsen said. “Washington state is ready to do its part. Amtrak needs to do its part.”

WSDOT’s Amtrak Cascades website Friday said Amtrak hadn’t committed yet to a reopening date and recommended bus service by Cantrail. Meanwhile, Amtrak’s schedule page still says, “Train service in Canada reopens when the border reopens," according to The Times.

The northerly Cascades route previously served Seattle, Edmonds, Everett, Stanwood, Mount Vernon and Bellingham, terminating in Vancouver. Daily bus service between Bellingham and Vancouver is still offered through Amtrak.

The lack of train service between Bellingham and southern destinations is particularly frustrating to some local travelers because of the previous cancellation of direct commuter flights between Bellingham and Portland.

The Cascades line south from Seattle remains operational, with three Cascades trains running each direction daily between Seattle and Oregon, along with one Coast Starlight train each way.

Amtrak is advertising 18 jobs in Seattle, such as coach cleaners, chefs and electricians, among nearly 450 open positions nationwide, The Times reported. 

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