Amtrak will postpone restoring its Cascades passenger-train service between Seattle, Wash., and Vancouver until possibly December because of a lack of personnel.
Amtrak, the US government-owned railway, canceled all of its Canadian service in March 2020 as COVID-19 governments prompted on both sides of the border to limit travel to stop the spread of the deadly virus.
No passenger trains have run across the Washington state–BC border since then, despite a restart being in the cards in 2022. Land and air travel is legally allowed between the two jurisdictions with few restrictions.
The Amtrak delay occurred despite the Biden administration’s much-hyped $66 billion allocated 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 Seattle Times reported.
Janet Matkin, rail spokesperson for the Washington State Department of Transportation, says transportation officials in Washington state hoped the trains would roll again by summer or even late spring.
Amtrak doesn’t have enough conductors, mechanics and onboard service staff yet to operate the trains, though new classes of conductors are in training, according to a letter to Washington and Oregon rail directors from Ray Lang, an Amtrak vice-president.
Approximately 159,000 people per year rode between Seattle and Vancouver before the pandemic, or 290,000 when including stations between the big cities, Matkin said. Passenger fares traditionally cover about two-thirds of operation 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 re-start of Canadian service for seven months or more is not acceptable to WSDOT and ODOT,” says a response co-signed by WSDOT Secretary Roger Millar and Oregon Department of Transportation Director Kris Strickler, who suggest at least partial service in the meantime.
Amtrak is currently advertising 18 jobs in Seattle, such as coach cleaners, chefs and electricians, among almost 450 open positions nationwide.
Washington state lawmakers this year approved $150 million to study and plan high-speed rail between British Columbia, Washington and Oregon, perhaps replacing Amtrak someday. But that’s estimated to require at least $42 billion and decades to build.