Nearly 2 1/2 years since Amtrak’s cars went quiet at the beginning of the pandemic, passenger trains between Seattle and B.C. are set to return this September.
The target date is a speedier one than had previously been announced; Amtrak said earlier it would not cross the border until December, highlighting staffing and equipment shortages.
That timeline displeased state transportation officials. Roger Millar and Kris Strickler, the top transportation leaders in Washington and Oregon, respectively, called a December restart “unacceptable,” citing the return of service in other parts of the country.
“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,” Millar and Strickler said in a May letter to Stephen Gardner, president and CEO of Amtrak. “The states expect some level of train service to resume between Seattle and Vancouver, B.C. sooner than Amtrak’s letter suggests.”
Service first halted in March 2020, as travel dried up and the border between the U.S. and Canada closed. The border fully reopened in both directions last November, but while drivers and air passengers came and went, the trains did not return.
Amtrak has previously blamed staffing shortages for the slow return. In an emailed statement, spokesperson Olivia Irvin did not specify what changed in recent weeks.
“Earlier plans called for a December return to Canada, but Amtrak was able to advance the schedule,” she said.
Before the pandemic, nearly 160,000 people traveled by train between Seattle and Vancouver per year, with many more riding between the towns along the way. In lieu of trains, Amtrak offered some bus service to Vancouver from Seattle.
The Washington State Department of Transportation is currently operating two buses that travel between Seattle and Bellingham, with stops along the way.
Washington state legislators budgeted $150 million this year to study high-speed rail between British Columbia and Oregon. The money will only be spent if it is matched with federal dollars.