It's time to talk about the trains

Published on Wed, May 15, 2013 by Brandy Kiger Shreve

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The Washington State Department of Transportation is ready to talk about the future of rail travel in the Cascades Corridor. 

On Thursday, May 30, a public workshop that will allow participants the opportunity to discuss passenger rail transportation and development of the state rail plan will be held in Blaine. 

“We’re very pleased that WSDOT is doing this as part of their statewide outreach,” said Bruce Agnew, director of the Cascadia Center, a group that advocates for rail travel. “We’re planning on bringing the letters of support from White Rock, Surrey, Delta and the chamber folks north of the border.” He added that they also plan to present a petition in favor of an Amtrak stop in Blaine at the meeting. 

Participants in the workshop will receive an update on the ongoing technical analysis of rail transportation and discuss priority needs and opportunities for the system with a focus on long-term plans for Amtrak Cascades intercity passenger rail.

When complete, the state rail plan will guide future public investment in the state’s rail transportation system and will provide an integrated plan for freight and passenger rail, including 5- and 20-year funding strategies. The plan will also guide Washington as the state works with Oregon and British Columbia to plan for future improvements to Amtrak Cascades. “There’s been a lot of talk and a lot of interest in making Amtrak Cascades accessible for lower mainland B.C. residents as well,” Agnew said. “Now’s the time to get it formally on the record.” 

The meeting, which will be held at Blaine City Hall, 435 Martin Street, from 9 a.m. to noon, is open to the public. 

Agnew said one of the most important things about the workshop is that, for the first time, WSDOT will be taking a holistic look at the rail system. “It’s a combined report this time,” he said. “It’s designed to look at passenger and freight rail together and it’s a very smart move on WSDOT’s part.” 

He said that it’s unrealistic to look at the two types of rail travel separately because they are so interwoven. “You have to take in the day-to-day realities of how Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) uses the rail when you’re designing this [state plan],” he said. “All these things – the VACIS, border inspections, the need for additional sidings – are things that have to be addressed in order for it to work. This is a great opportunity for our voices to be heard.” 

WSDOT will release the final plan by the end of 2013.

While an RSVP is not required, those planning to attend are strongly encouraged to fill out a short RSVP form to help organizers ensure they have adequate space and materials for all participants. 

Specific concerns about the rail plan can be added to the RSVP form to help organizers plan for possible smaller-group discussions. RSVPs can be made at surveymonkey.com/s/WSRP_Blaine30MayRSVPs.

If you would like to add your name to the petition before the meeting, visit Blaine-area businesses or blainestation.com. 

For more information about the meeting, contact Blaine Public Works Department at 360/332-8820 or pwmail@cityofblaine.com.

For more information about the state rail plan, contact the Washington State Department of Transportation Rail Division at 360/705-7900 or rail@wsdot.wa.gov. 

Those interested who are unable to attend the workshop are encouraged to request a briefing or visit wsdot.wa.gov/rail/staterailplan.htm to view project materials.