Rail advocate outlines possible path to Blaine train stop

Published on Wed, Mar 28, 2012 by Jeremy Schwartz

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Blaine city officials need to reach out to partners outside of the immediate community if a train stop in Blaine is to become a reality.

That was the main message transportation advocate Bruce Agnew drove home at the March 26 Blaine City Council meeting. Agnew is the director of the Cascadia Center for Regional Development, a Seattle-based transportation advocacy group that has been studying what it would take to bring a rail stop to Blaine.

“The quickest way to get a train stop in Blaine is [a] third Amtrak stop,” Agnew said.

Agnew spoke to a nearly full house of Blaine residents at Monday’s meeting. City councilors from Surrey and White Rock, B.C., also attended to express their cities’ support for a station.

Agnew suggested Blaine city officials contact state transportation representatives and convey how important such a stop could be. Blaine City Council member Bonnie Onyon said she would support the city council sending a letter to Governor Chris Gregoire outlining the positive effects a train station would have on the community and the region in general.

“It’s important to remember that this is a regional train stop, not just a Blaine train stop,” Onyon said.

Longtime Blaine resident Rodney DeMent, who had been elected to Blaine City Council more than 50 years ago, said any rail stop in Blaine has his full support. DeMent worked for the Great Northern railroad for most of his life and wants an operating train stop to return to the Peace Arch city.

“I support this plan 100,000 percent,” DeMent said.

Agnew said about 871,000 people live south of the Fraser River, and most would love the chance to cross the border into Blaine and catch a train to Seattle or points south. Surrey city councilor Marvin Hunt echoed that sentiment, saying Surrey residents have to spend at least two hours traveling to Vancouver before taking a train south across the border.

“[That’s] two hours wasted to come back where we started in the first place,” Hunt said.

Surrey is home to roughly half a million residents and has grown by more than 300 percent in the last 40 years, Hunt explained. This population boom means hundreds of thousands of people ready to support an Amtrak station just across the border.

“A Blaine Amtrak station just makes a lot of sense to us,” Hunt said.

White Rock City Council member Grant Meyer said his colleagues on the council are prepared to pass a formal resolution in support of a train stop in Blaine. Surrey City Council members passed a similar resolution in February.

“I thought this was the ideal situation not only for you guys as a city but for the south Fraser valley, Meyer said. “I think there’s huge potential here, for both sides of the border.”

Agnew pointed out there is a 60-mile stretch between Vancouver and Amtrak’s first stop in Bellingham, which is unique among Amtrak stops. Most other stops have no more than 15 or 20 miles between them.

“Our pitch to the state is that you’ve got this huge gap, and you’re losing a lot of riders,” Agnew said.

Ridership for the Cascades Amtrak line, which runs from Portland to Vancouver, has steadily increased since its inception in 1994, according to Agnew. Amtrak Cascades revenue has also increased from $12 million in 2006 to $25 million in 2011.