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No high speed rail, but we got some press: Vancouver mayor

VANCOUVER – Gregor Robertson is back from his trip to Portland and Seattle, and readily admits he isn’t going to travel the route on a high-speed train any time soon.

The Vancouver mayor, his chief of staff and city councillor Geoff Meggs met with civic and business leaders in the two American cities, pledging to pursue a high speed rail corridor for the Northwest.

However, if you’ve been reading The Tyee lately, you know there are many reasons why high speed rail service to Vancouver is a long shot, and that there are obstacles even for conventional passenger rail.

The mayor gave an update on his trip during Tuesday's city council meeting, and he was quick to dial down expectations:

The reality is that true high speed rail – as in the bullet trains you see in Europe and Japan – are a significant level of investment, and in terms of timing they may not be able to proceed with that level of high speed rail.

Instead, Robertson talked about “significant improvements to the current tracks and to the trains” that could improve service and therefore ridership.

But ever the optimist, Robertson pointed out that since “we’re starting from a very low place,” even small improvements can make a difference.

For example, Robertson (and the rest of city council) is calling on the Canadian Border Service Agency to waive the overtime charges that are preventing Amtrak from operating a second daily train to Vancouver.

There’s not much a mayor can do to change the policy of a federal department, but Robertson assured his colleagues that he had talked to B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell, who had “agreed to take the subject up with the Prime Minister.”

So what did Robertson and his colleagues accomplish with their mission to Seattle and Portland? Well, he had an answer for that, too:

I am hopeful that the attention that has been brought to this by travelling down to the States -- the media coverage that this has generated on both sides of the border -- that we get an opportunity here to increase the service, improve the service and get investment moving on both sides of the border.

Amelia Bellamy-Royds reports for The Tyee.

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