Amtrak will delay the restoration of Cascades passenger train service between Seattle, Washington and Vancouver until possibly December due to staff shortages.
Amtrak, the U.S. government-owned railroad company, halted all of its Canadian services in March 2020, as COVID-19 prompted governments on both sides of the border to restrict travel to stop the spread of the deadly virus.
Since then, no passenger trains have crossed the border between Washington state and BC, despite a restart in 2022. Land and air travel is legal between the two jurisdictions with few restrictions.
The Amtrak delay came 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’s national rail service to new cities, including Las Vegas. , Phoenix, Columbus and Nashville, The Seattle Times reported.
Janet Matkin, a rail spokesman for the Washington State Department of Transportation, says transportation officials in Washington state hoped the trains would be running again by summer or even late spring.
Amtrak does not yet have enough conductors, mechanics and service personnel on board to operate the trains, although new classes of conductors are in training, according to a letter to Washington and Oregon railroad directors from Ray Lang, an Amtrak vice president.
About 159,000 people a year traveled between Seattle and Vancouver before the pandemic, or 290,000 if stations between major cities were included, 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 Kris Strickler, director of the Oregon Department of Transportation, suggesting at least partial service in the meantime.
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 that’s estimated to cost at least $42 billion and decades to build.