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Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Students propose Blaine rail plan

Over winter break, international business majors worked with the City of Blaine to assess whether an Amtrak stop could decrease travel time for those traveling in and out.  

Teammates and students Joe Glithero, Michelle Anderson-Irons, and Lora Sonnen presented their project and evaluation to the Washington State Department of Transportation on Dec. 8.

The project was part of the program for the business department, which connects real companies with students to create flexible learning experiences and provides students with credit, international business professor Tom Roehl said.

Through the student’s research, they found Blaine to be the perfect location to serve about 1.1 million people south of the Fraser River, Glithero said.

“It will bring jobs to Washington, added jobs to Blaine and hopefully increase tourism throughout Washington and Oregon, which is the main goal,” Glithero said.

Amtrak users could save on tickets and gas by taking the train in Blaine versus driving to Vancouver or Bellingham and taking the train to Seattle. It costs $42 to $54 to take the train from Vancouver, and $24 to $31 to take it from Bellingham.

Glithero rode a train last quarter to better understand which demographics used it. He said that both families and business people could benefit from a train station in Blaine.

Glithero also spoke to Amtrak employees who experienced more ridership in the summer due to cruises.

To increase business travelers, Glithero and teammates talked to the DOT for incentives to business class riders, he said.

The train is also used by Europeans who fly into Vancouver and ride south to Washington and California. Glithero did not think these travelers would have an influence on the Blaine station, as they would not drive to use that station.    

The closest train stations to the border are in Vancouver, Canada or Bellingham. Sonnen said it is the longest stretch without an additional station. Residents near the border, such as White Rock, B.C., are inconvenienced and have to travel further north or south to get to the train, Sonnen said.

“We used Google Maps to figure out how long the drive time is between their city and Vancouver versus their city and Blaine,” Sonnen said.

They found the trip would be 22 minutes faster to drive from White Rock to Blaine rather than Vancouver, Sonnen said.

The lasting question through the project remains whether or not Canadians would make use of the station, Sonnen said.

“Most of the concerns were related to the stagnating ridership on the train,” Sonnen said. “The trains over here in the west don’t have the same sort of ridership that they do East Coast or in Europe.”

Lloyd Flem, executive director for the consumer advocacy group, All Aboard Washington, shares similar concerns to Sonnen.

“There has to be some kind of reasonable documentation that they are ready to make the trip on the train frequently and they will make a financial commitment,” Flem said.

“One of the most important things in my judgment is strong support and data support from the people of northern Whatcom County and very importantly people south of the Fraser River,” Flem said.

Strong support from people in both northern Whatcom County and those south of the Fraser river is key, Flem said.

The ultimate decision to put a train station in Blaine is up to the DOT, Amtrak, Burlington Northern Santa Fe railway, the people of Blaine and people south of the Fraser River, Flem said.

Flem has invited the students to join the board of directors at their next meeting on March 5 to discuss their project.

“My role would be to chat with them, to encourage what they have done and to say ‘wow, the work you young folks have done is in my judgment, is as good as highly paid consultants,’” he said.

Flem supports others to create projects like the Western students have. He wants to see more women, young people and ethnic diversity work its way onto the board.

“Our organization has too many people like me, old men, and we need more diversity.”

Professor Roehl said his winter quarter students will be picking up the project and continue its progress to focus on the business traveler demographic.

 

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