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Originally published February 9, 2009 at 12:00 AM | Page modified February 9, 2009 at 10:30 AM

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Amtrak tries to increase service to B.C.

Amtrak wants to start a second daily Seattle-to-Vancouver train, but the proposal is stalled because of a dispute about fees for Canadian immigration and customs inspections.

Seattle Times Travel staff

There's an easy way to avoid delays at the U.S.-Canada border crossing at Blaine, both now and during next year's Winter Olympics: Take the train from Seattle to Vancouver, B.C.

It will be even more convenient if Amtrak Cascades starts a second daily round-trip train between the two cities.

Amtrak Cascades, which has one round trip a day between Seattle and Vancouver, B.C., says it's been ready since last summer to start a second train. But that's been stymied by a dispute over payment for immigration/customs inspections of rail passengers arriving in Canada aboard the second train.

"In July, we were notified by the Canadian Border Services Agency that they will require $1,500 [Canadian] a day in reimbursement for inspections of northbound passengers," said Ken Uznanski, the rail-passenger manager for the Washington Department of Transportation.

Amtrak Cascades, the Pacific Northwest rail service operated by Amtrak under contract with the governments of Washington and Oregon, doesn't want to pay that daily fee (equivalent to about $1,218). Talks have been held but so far there's no resolution — and no second train.

"The province of British Columbia, the tourism industry and others have been working to attempt to get the fee waived," said Uznanski. "The current Seattle-Vancouver round trip does not have such a charge ... (that's) what has held up the start of service."

A spokeswoman for Canada's Border Services Agency, Faith St. John, said the federal agency could not comment on the issue.

The British Columbia government "recognizes the benefits" of a second train, provincial- government spokesman Alex Dabrowski said Friday. But it's awaiting the outcome of talks and has no timeline for when the train may start.

In the meantime, Amtrak Cascades saw record annual ridership in 2008, carrying 774,421 passengers on its routes that stretch from Eugene, Ore., through Portland and Seattle to Vancouver, B.C. That's up from 676,670 passengers in 2007.

High fuel costs for motorists and the convenience of trains — its most popular stretch is Seattle-Portland service with four round trips daily — helped boost ridership.

A second train between Seattle and Vancouver, B.C., would give passengers a better choice of times. The current northbound train departs Seattle at 7.40 a.m.; it leaves Vancouver, B.C., at 5.45 p.m. for Seattle.

The new train would leave Seattle at 6.40 p.m. and depart Vancouver the following morning at 7 a.m.

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Another advantage of the second train, beyond the increase in service, is it would be an extension of an existing service between Seattle and Portland.

That would let travelers remain on one train between Portland and Vancouver, B.C., avoiding the train changes and long waits now required for such a trip.

Kristin Jackson: kjackson@seattletimes.com or 206-464-2271.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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