BLAINE - Leaders of cities with more than half a million people support adding a passenger rail stop in Blaine, but state officials were skeptical of such a bid.
Blaine City Council on Monday, June 25, voted 6-0, with council member Harry Robinson absent, to approve a resolution in support of adding an Amtrak stop in town. Councils for the British Columbia cities of Surrey, White Rock and Langley already voted in support of the effort.
"I think it's encouraging that the communities in the Lower Mainland are getting behind this effort," Blaine City Manager Gary Tomsic said. "I think it's real significant, too. It's not just a matter of the little city of Blaine trying to make a pitch to become a stop."
Currently, Amtrak trains stop in Bellingham and Vancouver, B.C., but not in between. Advocates of a Blaine stop see potential to attract B.C. residents living south of the Fraser River, people who would otherwise board the train in Vancouver.
In addition to adding a stop, the city's resolution supports adding a midday third roundtrip train that, in the near term, could operate between Seattle and Blaine during the busy season, May to October. Amtrak currently runs two roundtrip trains to Vancouver daily.
State officials were skeptical of the requests.
If you're wanting to add schedule time or stops that don't add revenues, the proposal won't be looked at favorably, said Ron Pate, operations manager at the state Department of Transportation's Rail and Marine Office.
As a condition of receiving federal funds, the state committed to adding two trains, reducing travel times and achieving an on-time reliability target.
"Any stop proposal would be looked at in light of those service goals," he said.
The federal government envisions intercity service, not commuter service, he said.
Last year, President Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced a deal that includes conducting border security inspections on southbound trains at Vancouver's station before the train leaves, rather than stopping the train at the border for an inspection. Given the elimination of that 10-minute delay, they wouldn't necessarily want to stop at the border again, Pate said.
Adding stops increases costs - including for infrastructure and staff - as well as time and risk of delays.
"To get people on the train, you provide good, reliable service," said Kerri Woehler, strategic assessment manager at the rail and marine office. "It's about improving service and reliability to improve revenues and decrease the taxpayer subsidies."
State officials will create a plan to guide future public spending for passenger and freight rail service. As part of that, Blaine wants the state to consider how track improvements in B.C. and Blaine will improve service, potentially leaving room in the schedule for a Blaine stop, Tomsic said. The potential customers from B.C. also should be considered, he said.
"Our thought is that when you're doing an analysis of all that, you need to keep all those things in mind, not just how fast the train is going," Tomsic said. "It would seem to me that a train, empty, going fast doesn't really meet the purposes of having a train."
As part of the planning, state officials will hold a public workshop this fall, Woehler said, and another in 2013. Details of the events haven't been set.
TRAIN STATION STATUS
The Blaine City Council on Monday, June 25, approved a resolution that supports working to renovate and use an abandoned train station for a new train stop. The station, along the tracks near F Street, is more than a century old. BNSF Railway, which owns it, has agreed to delay pursuing its plan to demolish it, Blaine City Manager Gary Tomsic said.
The Washington Trust for Historic Preservation recently listed the depot on its 2012 list of most endangered historic properties. The depot isn't listed but is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, according to the group.
Tomsic said efforts to save the station and get a train stop in town are related but don't necessarily depend on each other.
For more information on the effort to save the station, go to Blainestation.com.
Click here to read a copy (PDF) of the Blaine City Council's resolution in support of adding an Amtrak stop in town.
Read more here: http://www.bellinghamherald.com/2012/06/27/2579710/blaine-bc-cities-voice-support.html#storylink=cpy.
Click here to see the state's project page for a new rail plan.