Amtrak will delay the restoration of Cascades passenger train service between Seattle and Vancouver, BC, until December, as the state railroads are understaffed.
The service gap emerged despite the much-hyped $66 billion from the Biden administration allotted in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to catch up with maintenance and spread Amtrak service to new cities, including Las Vegas, Phoenix, Columbus and Nashville.
Transportation officials in Washington state hoped the trains would run again by summer or even late spring, said Janet Matkin, a rail spokesman for the Washington State Department of Transportation, which announced the disappointing news Friday afternoon.
Amtrak does not yet have enough conductors, mechanics and service personnel on board to operate the trains, although new classes of conductors are now being trained, according to a letter to Washington and Oregon rail directors from Ray Lang, an Amtrak vice president. Lang notes that every region wants full service.
About 159,000 people a year drove between Seattle and Vancouver, BC, before the pandemic, or 290,000 people including stations between major cities, Matkin said. Passenger fares traditionally cover about two-thirds of operating costs, while states cover the rest.
“Amtrak’s lack of support for the Amtrak Cascades service cannot continue and Amtrak’s plans to delay the restart of Canadian service for seven months or more are not acceptable to WSDOT and ODOT,” said a WSDOT and ODOT co-signed response. secretary Roger Millar and Oregon transportation director Kris Strickler, proposing at least partial service in the meantime. “However, the states cannot accept Amtrak’s plan to provide no service at all.”
The state executives allege that Amtrak is not honoring its Cascades service agreement to support its longer interstate routes.
Later this month, the Empire Builder will expand from five days a week to a full seven-day service, Montana news agencies reported.
It’s been nearly a year since Amtrak President Stephen Gardner visited King Street Station along with U.S. Representative Rick Larsen, D-Wash., to discuss the return of long-distance trains from Coast Starlight to California and Empire Builder to Spokane and Chicago. to celebrate. Gardner highlighted a $1.7 billion federal infusion to recall 1,200 employees from their furlough. The staff of Larsen and Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., a leading advocate for railroad projects, could not be immediately reached for a response.
To reopen the Cascades line to Canada, Amtrak will need three more conductors, who will take six to 12 months to be promoted to assistant conductor, Lang wrote. The conductor is responsible for the well-being of passengers, train equipment and connections, and warns the driver of hazards along the track.
WSDOT’s Amtrak Cascades website said Friday that Amtrak has not yet committed to a reopening date and has recommended Cantrail’s bus service. Meanwhile, Amtrak’s timetable page still says, “Train service in Canada will reopen when the border reopens.”
Currently, there are three Cascades trains in each direction between Seattle and Oregon daily, along with one Coast Starlight train each way.
Amtrak currently advertises 18 Seattle jobs, such as coach cleaners, chefs and electricians, among nearly 450 job openings nationwide.
Washington state lawmakers approved $150 million this year to study and plan high-speed trains between British Columbia, Washington and Oregon, perhaps one day to replace Amtrak. But such a vision is estimated to cost at least $42 billion and decades to build.
—By Mike Lindblom, The Seattle Times