Amtrak trains between Vancouver and Seattle to return 2 months ahead of schedule this fall

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An Amtrak employee looks out the window as the train pulls out of a station in this 2021 file photo. Amtrak service between Vancouver and Seattle is set to be on the tracks two months earlier than expected. (Eakin Howard/Lincoln Journal via AP Photo - image credit)
An Amtrak employee looks out the window as the train pulls out of a station in this 2021 file photo. Amtrak service between Vancouver and Seattle is set to be on the tracks two months earlier than expected. (Eakin Howard/Lincoln Journal via AP Photo - image credit)

After more than two years off the tracks, the Amtrak Cascades passenger train service between Vancouver and Seattle, Wash. is set to return in September.

The popular international service is expected to resume two months ahead of schedule.

Officials at the U.S. government-owned railway had said in May trains wouldn't return to the route until December, at soonest.

No passenger trains have run across the B.C.-Washington border since the first major outbreak of COVID-19 in March 2020, even though land and air travel have been allowed between the two jurisdictions, with few restrictions.

Amtrak had blamed staffing shortages for the long delay, saying it didn't have enough conductors, mechanics and onboard service staff to operate the trains.

Janet Matkin, with the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), said the railway service managed to be creative with staffing and equipment, allowing for the resumption of service.

"WSDOT … is really excited that we're able to return service in September," she said in an interview. "Originally, Amtrak had notified us that it wouldn't be until December of 2022, which we were very dissatisfied with."

Prior to the pandemic, roughly 159,000 people rode the train route between Seattle and Vancouver every year. And nearly double that number of passengers boarded or disembarked at stops between the two cities.

The railway's Cascades route has been running on a limited schedule between Seattle and Portland for several months.

When it extends its service north to Canada again this fall, Matkin said Amtrak plans to run one round trip every day, and if demand increases eventually to two.

Both WSDOT and the Oregon Department of Transportation are responsible for the Cascades route service, with Washington overseeing the services running to B.C.

Matkin said passenger numbers on the U.S. parts of the Cascades route had not yet rebounded to pre-pandemic levels, but it were increasing "a great deal."

In the absence of its train to Vancouver, Amtrak had been offering coach bus service between Vancouver and Seattle. Matkin said that saw a significant uptake, transporting more than 350 passengers a day.

"The demand is definitely there," she said. "Not just from Vancouver, but also the stations in between, from Bellingham to Everett."

Washington state lawmakers this year approved $150 million to study and plan high-speed rail between British Columbia, Washington and Oregon, with an eye to potentially replacing Amtrak some day. But if that happens, it would cost at least an estimated $42 billion and decades to build.

B.C.'s government has supported the idea, with Premier John Horgan saying in 2019 that a high-speed, one-hour trip between Seattle and Vancouver would "strengthen the relationship" between Washington state and B.C., and "create "countless opportunities" on both sides of the border.

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