- The bipartisan infrastructure bill targets Amtrak’s cross-border services to Canada.
- Amtrak would be required to review ways of improving the service, including by reducing customs delays.
- Opening border pre-clearance facilities in the US and Canada could improve journey times.
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Congress’ $US1 ($AU1) trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill wants to make it easier for Americans and Canadian to cross the border by rail.
Amtrak is being tasked with reviewing and improving cross-border rail services by reducing delays at the US-Canada border. Both US and Canada-bound trains often waste hours at border stations while passengers undergo customs screenings.
The bill requires that the report identify “challenges to Amtrak operations in Canada, including delays associated with custom and immigration inspections in both the United States and Canada.”
One requirement that the bill includes is studying the feasibility of expanding the US’s border pre-clearance capabilities to rail service. Pre-clearance facilities are most commonly found in Canadian airports and allow travelers to clear US Customs and Border Protection upon their departure from Canada instead of upon arrival into the US.
The scheme could be implemented in major Canadian train stations to reduce journey times. US arrivals are currently cleared at the border in cities like Blaine, Washington; Niagara Falls, New York; and Rouses Point, New York.
US Senator Chuck Schumer of New York has also called for the Canadian government to open a preclearance facility at the Niagara Falls Train Station on the New York side of the border.
“The ability to pass through customs before they board the train and enter Canada would be a remarkable convenience for anyone seeking to travel between our two countries by rail,” Schumer wrote in a letter to Canadian Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Bill Blair.
“Instead, passengers must board a train in Niagara Falls, New York, then disembark in a less secure space in Ontario for a customs check, before re-boarding the train and continuing on,” he wrote.
Both countries have established the legal framework for preclearance but Schumer blamed the Canadian government for not moving forward with the program.
Amtrak’s services north of the border remain suspended due to the pandemic as non-essential travel is currently barred between the two countries. Vaccinated Americans will be permitted to enter Canada as of August 9; though, Canadians will only be allowed into the US if they arrive by air.
Amtrak doesn’t currently have a date on when Canadian services will resume. Trains on the Adirondack line between New York and Montreal currently run as far north as Albany, New York while Maple Leaf line trains stop at Niagara Falls and Cascades line trains only go as far as Seattle.
“Amtrak is working closely with Canadian officials to solidify a specific process for passengers entering Canada following its closure,” Amtrak spokesperson Jason Abrams told Insider. “As soon as details are determined, we will share information on resuming train service to Canada.”
Additional service to Canada is also a staple of the “Amtrak Connects US” plan unveiled in March. Expanded routes to Canada were recommended including extending the Wolverine line from Detroit to Toronto and the Vermonter line from St Albans, Vermont to Montreal.
If the infrastructure bill is made into law, Amtrak has one year to submit a report to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation and House of Representatives Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure on how it can enhance its passenger services between the two countries.