Friday, May 11, 2012

Customs relief in sight for Amtrak's Adirondack

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Amtrak's Adirondack has been plagued for years by extensive border delays in both directions to its New York-Montreal journey due to both U.S. and Canadian customs clearance procedures. Now, spurred by U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), the railroad and both nations may be able to reduce delays.

Schumer on Thursday said in a statement that Quebec’s Emissary Raymond Chretien told him during a meeting that the service is building a facility in Montreal's Gare Central, where U.S. Customs and Border Patrol and Canada's Border Services Agency could complete prescreenings. Arriving passengers would be processed by Canadian officials, while departing passengers would be screened by U.S. officials at the facility, he said.

Schumer and other New York congressional leaders have repeatedly asked the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to allow the U.S.-bound train screenings in Montreal. At present, trains stop at Rouses Point, N.Y., near the U.S.-Canadian border, with Customs clearance delays reportedly lasting up to two hours. (Railway Age can vouch for a delay lasting one hour, 45 minutes.)

Under the plan, Amtrak would eliminate its stop at St. Lambert, Quebec, a suburb of Montreal roughly four miles from Gare Central, in order to augment security and expedite scheduling. Should Amtrak succeed in reinstating service between New York and Montreal via Vermont—as it once offered on its namesake Montrealer—the Gare Central facility also could be used for that train as well. (The vestigal Vermonter currently terminates its journey short of the U.S.-Canadian border, at St. Albans, Vt., roughly 70 miles from Montreal.)

Schumer said Canadian and U.S. authorities need to finalize legal agreements to allow U.S. border agents to work in the Canadian facility under the Beyond the Borders agreement before prescreening can begin. Such operations, however, have been in place for years at Toronto's Lester B. Pearson International Airport. In the West, U.S. and Canadian customs have cooperated successfully in expedited clearance for Amtrak Cascades service linking Vancouver, British Columbia, with Seattle and with Portland, Ore. But Schumer, in his statement, said the Montreal prescreening would be "more comprehensive than the Vancouver prescreening, because the train will not have to stop at the border at all (unlike the current Vancouver prescreening in which a shorter inspection still takes place on the border)."

"Backwards border policies that have caused maddening delays for train passengers are soon going to be left behind," said Schumer. "The rail between Montreal and New York City should be a major artery for economic growth, but the delays have left this artery completely clogged."

Still unclear is whether any U.S.-Canada agreement would also pertain to Amtrak's Maple Leaf, running between New York and Toronto, which crosses the border at Niagara Falls, N.Y., and its namesake sister city in Ontario.