Amtrak 'Cascades' celebrate 20 years in service

RELATED TOPICS: CANADA | AMTRAK | PASSENGER | WEST
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AMTKNorthboundCascadesalongPugetSoundRichmondBeachWA81505Glischinski1
A northbound Amtrak Cascades train glides along Puget Sound near Richmond Beach, Wash., in 2005.
Steve Glischinski
GNInternationalalongPugetSound1950GNPhoto1
A Great Northern International train along Puget Sound in 1950.
Steve Glischinski collection
VANCOUVER, British Columbia — In case you didn't know, Amtrak Cascades services to Canada turns 20 this month.

The Washington State Department of Transportation and Amtrak celebrated with a ceremony at Pacific Central Station in Vancouver, B.C.

The service continues to grow — a transportation department analysis shows that Amtrak Cascades passengers spend $11 million annually in British Columbia alone — and a combined $110 million in all the station cities. The number of passengers has nearly doubled since 1995; last year approximately 148,000 people traveled to or from British Columbia on Amtrak Cascades trains.

Streamlined passenger train service between Seattle and Vancouver was begun by the Great Northern Railway in 1950 when it inaugurated three times daily International service. The trains connected with the Empire Builder and Western Star at Everett, Wash., and at Seattle with trains to Portland and other points. Each International consist had a mail-baggage car, two coaches, a cafe-coach and an observation parlor-lounge car, all built by American Car & Foundry.

In May 1960, GN discontinued one round trip, and then in June 1969 a second round trip was eliminated. This left only a single round trip operated by GN-successor Burlington Northern by the time Amtrak arrived on May 1, 1971, when all service ended.

Seattle-Vancouver service returned on July 17, 1972 with the inauguration of Amtrak’s Pacific International, complete with a dome car. Offering a single round trip, the Pacific International soldiered on until September 1981, when it was discontinued.

Vancouver service returned on May 26, 1995, when the Mount Baker International began running between Vancouver and Seattle in cooperation with the state of Washington. In 1998, the Cascades brand was introduced for the service as new Talgo equipment was put into service. A second Vancouver train, offering through service between Vancouver and Portland, began in August 2009 as a pilot project to determine whether a train permanently operating on the route would be feasible. With the Canadian federal government requesting Amtrak to pay for border control costs for the second daily train, it was to be discontinued on Oct. 31, 2010. However, Washington State and Canadian officials held discussions in an attempt to continue the service, which resulted in the Canadian government permanently waiving the fee and the train continued to operate.

Streamlined border crossings are the next planned improvement for the Cascades Service. A Preclearance Agreement signed by U.S. and Canadian officials in March now awaits approval by the U.S. Congress and Canadian Parliament. Once fully implemented, preclearance will streamline the customs process for travelers entering the U.S. from Canada. It also will reduce travel time by eliminating a second customs stop in Blaine after the initial screening in Canada.
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