Skip to main content

Free Amtrak for kids, teens in Washington – funded by big polluters

caption: The Amtrak Cascades heads north in Shoreline, Washington, on Nov. 30, 2023.
Enlarge Icon
The Amtrak Cascades heads north in Shoreline, Washington, on Nov. 30, 2023.

Young passengers can travel free on Amtrak trains and buses between Bellingham and Vancouver, Washington, thanks to fees paid by major polluters in the state.

Amtrak Cascades service within Washington state is now free to anyone 18 years old or younger. Reservations must be made in advance, and passengers below the age of 16 must travel with an adult, who has to pay the regular adult fare.

With the addition of Amtrak Cascades discounts, youth can now travel free on trains, ferries, buses, and light rail. Of 31 local transit agencies in Washington, only Selah Transit in Yakima County is not providing free service for youths.

Youth fares remain unchanged on Amtrak’s Coast Starlight and Empire Builder routes.

Washington State Department of Transportation spokesperson Janet Matkin said the free Amtrak Cascades fares are expected to cost about $1 million a year.

“Train travel is significantly better for the environment than driving,” Matkin said by email.

State-run auction of permits to emit carbon dioxide and other climate-harming gases have raised more than $2 billion since February 2023. Most of the proceeds are going to projects aimed at reducing pollution or helping communities weather the impacts of fossil fuel burning.

Since 2023, climate-harming emissions from major polluters have been limited under Washington state’s cap-and-trade policy. Some industries get their pollution allowances for free, while other polluters have to compete for a limited number of permits to keep harming the climate.

Which businesses have actually paid to pollute is a state secret.

To prevent market manipulation, the cap-and-trade law, known as the Climate Commitment Act, prohibits auction participants from disclosing their bids or even whether they participated in the quarterly auctions. The Washington Department of Ecology only releases the names of businesses that are qualified to bid for the carbon allowances. In the latest auction in March, 39 businesses, including oil, gas, and utility companies, were qualified.

Opponents of the carbon cap argue that it has driven up gasoline prices and are seeking to repeal the policy through a ballot initiative in November.

The Cascades line serves stations from Vancouver, British Columbia, to Eugene, Oregon. Fares to destinations outside Washington state are not subsidized. Passengers have to book the free, in-state portion separately and purchase separate tickets for the rest of their journeys.

Why you can trust KUOW