Federal cash keeps Vancouver train running on time
The Canada Border Services Agency has found the funds to keep a second train running between Portland, Ore., and Vancouver for at least one more year.
Federal Public Safety Minister Vic Toews announced Thursday the border services agency has reallocated about $800,000 to cover the cost of the second U.S. Amtrak train into Vancouver per day.
The federal government had planned to charge U.S. officials for keeping the customs post open for the evening shuttle, a demand the Americans balked at.
Last month, the transportation secretary in Washington State called the demand unreasonable because Canadians don't have to pay the same fees when entering the U.S.
The fee dispute meant the second train, which was put in temporarily to facilitate traffic for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, had been scheduled to stop running at the end of the month.
"While discussions continued until the 11th hour, we obviously share Vancouver's delight over the final outcome of these long negotiations between the Canada Border Services Agency and Amtrak," Toews said at a hastily called news conference at a downtown Vancouver hotel.
"We have agreed to extend the service for one year, and during this one-year period, the operators of the service will demonstrate the need that necessitates this second train."
Toews said he spoke with U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano before the deal was struck and said the agreement highlights the close relationship between Canadian and American officials.
But last month, Paula Hammond, transportation secretary for Washington state, blasted Ottawa's plans to charge the fee.
Hammond said her department did not have the money to cover the added cost -- then estimated at $550,000 -- and would not ask Washington travellers to pay more for a ticket.
Hammond said the second train brought nearly $12 million in economic benefits to B.C. in the year it was operating.
Asia-Pacific Gateway Minister Stockwell Day, who joined Toews at the news conference, said Amtrak and tourism officials will now have 12 months to show the viability of the line without an Olympic boost.
"It became difficult to say what would be the ongoing demand and this will allow an assessment of that," he said.
Toews said he doesn't believe the reallocation of funds will have any negative impact on the border agency's services or security operations.
The federal Liberals blasted the Conservative government for allowing the fate of the second train to linger for quite so long.
Transport critic John McCallum said the last-minute "antics" demonstrated a lack of concern for B.C.'s economic interests.
But B.C. Transportation Minister Shirley Bond welcomed the news, even if it means only another one-year trial.
Bond said the train's economic benefits are clear.
"Since the addition of the second daily train, the total annual Amtrak Cascades ridership into Vancouver has almost doubled from over 35,000 passengers to approximately 69,000," she said in an interview.
"The estimated value that the second Amtrak train brought into B.C. is about $11.8 million during its year of operation so whether the fee is $550,000 or $800,000, we're getting a pretty exceptional return on investment."
James Chase with the B.C. Hotel Association called the announcement a "great reprieve."
"Obviously Oct. 31, there was a lot of nervousness and this is a great opportunity," he said.