Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Amtrak Adirondack may get Customs revamp

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The commissioner of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection on Tuesday outlined planned improvements to joint U.S.-Canada operations, including streamlined radar operations to detect low-flying aircraft and establishing customs clearance for Amtrak’s Adirondack in Montreal’s Central Station.

Commissioner Alan Bersin referred to the potential changes at a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing chaired by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). Schumer has voiced frustration with current customs procedures for the Adirondack, which has the train stop at the U.S.-Canada border for up to two hours. (On a trip last October, Railway Age Managing Editor Douglas John Bowen recorded waiting times of 49 minutes northbound, clearing Canadian customs, and 1 hour 45 minutes southbound, clearing U.S. customs, on a New York-to-Montreal round trip.)

Bersin said his agency is exploring the possibility of opening an inspection facility in Montreal that would serve Amtrak passengers traveling to New York State locations, including New York City. Customs and Border Protection operates in such a matter in Vancouver, British Columbia, served by Amtrak’s Cascades trains.

During the hearing, Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) urged Customs and Border Protection officials to work with Vermont state officials to help restore New York-Montreal Amtrak service routed through Vermont, which could offer potential economies of scale to any new Customs inspection plan for Amtrak Montreal service. Amtrak’s Montrealer was discontinued in 1995.

Bersin replied, “The difficulty in the Montreal-Vermont-New York corridor is that, unlike Vancouver-Seattle, there are many stops along the way, which complicates the notion of pre-clearance because you can't then segment the traffic when it arrives in New York.” But the commissioner added, “We are certainly willing to explore the options.”