WASHINGTON (THURSDAY, May 24) — U.S. Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Charles Schumer, (D-N.Y.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) are urging federal negotiators to move quickly to reach an agreement with their Canadian counterparts on allowing essential security inspections for Amtrak trains to take place in Montreal. An agreement would lay the groundwork for a dramatic improvement of service on Amtrak’s Adirondack line in New York and would mark the first crucial step in restoring Amtrak service between Vermont and Montreal.
In a joint statement the senators said: “The economic links between Canada and the states of Vermont and New York are vital, and there is great potential to make them stronger still. A smoother customs experience in Montreal will spur job creation and economic opportunities on both sides of the border.”
The senators are pressing their case in a letter sent Thursday to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.
After years of discussion about the benefits of such an initiative, the first concrete steps are now being taken to accomplish it, as the States of Vermont and New York and the Province of Québec are working closely with Amtrak, Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Department of Transportation and their federal counterparts in Canada. Plans are in motion to implement at Montréal’s Central Station joint facilities staffed by U.S. and Canadian agents to conduct the pre-clearance process of passengers traveling to and from the United States.
The Vermont and New York senators point out that current passenger rail connections between Vermont and New York and Quebec are inadequate at best. Vermont’s Amtrak service to Montréal was discontinued in 1995, and the route now terminates in St. Albans, Vt. The Adirondack service, which connects New York City and Montréal, takes at least 11 hours, including sometimes up to two hours for processing passengers at the Canada-U.S. border. These border delays are unacceptable for most travelers and are a serious barrier to building ridership on the rail route.
On Feb. 4, 2011, President Obama and Prime Minister Harper announced the United States-Canada joint declaration, Beyond the Border: A Shared Vision for Perimeter Security and Economic Competitiveness. It articulates a shared approach to security in which both countries work together to address threats within, at, and away from their borders, while expediting lawful trade and travel. One of the goals of the declaration is finding a way to bolster and encourage pre-clearance facilities at rail stations, and U.S. and Canadian border officials are working on a plan now. Leahy, Schumer, Sanders and Gillibrand want the Montreal station to be the first out of the gate under the new agreement.
The text of the senators’ letter is below:
May 24, 2012
The Honorable Hillary Rodham Clinton The Honorable Janet Napolitano
U.S. Department of State U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Washington, DC 20520 Washington, DC 20528
Dear Secretaries Clinton and Napolitano:
In December 2011, President Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Harper agreed on the “Beyond the Border Action Plan” to address the needs in infrastructure, technology and personnel required to reduce delays at the Canada-U.S. border while keeping both of our countries safe. In light of the President’s commitments both to increased passenger rail service and to a more fluid Northern border, we urge you to take the necessary steps to conclude an agreement before the end of 2012 for the pre-clearance of cross border rail passengers, and for the designation of Montréal’s Central station as a priority for the development of rail pre-clearance facilities.
Concrete steps have already been taken to move this initiative forward in the Northeast, as the States of Vermont and New York and the Province of Québec are working closely with Amtrak, Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Department of Transportation, and their federal counterparts in Canada. Plans are in motion to implement at Montréal’s Central Station joint facilities staffed by U.S. and Canadian agents to conduct the pre-clearance process of passengers traveling to and from the United States.
An agreement for the pre-clearance of rail passengers by the end of this year and the approval for pre-clearance in Montréal would lay the groundwork for a dramatic improvement of service on Amtrak’s Adirondack line, mark the first crucial step in bringing Amtrak’s Vermonter back to Montreal and, more generally, help increase ridership on the entire Northeast Corridor.
Currently, passenger rail connections between Vermont and New York and our Canadian neighbors are inadequate at best. The Vermonter service to Montréal was discontinued in 1995, and the route now terminates in St. Albans, Vermont. The Adirondack service, which connects New York City and Montréal, takes at least 11 hours, including sometimes up to two hours for processing passengers at the Canada-U.S. border. These border delays are unacceptable for travelers and present a serious impediment to increasing the number of passengers willing to take the train.
The United States and Canada trade over $600 billion worth of goods and services a year, which translates into more than $1.7 billion of goods and services a day. Since the economic linkages between Canada and the states of New York State and Vermont are particularly vital, we have long emphasized the importance of developing good transportation links between Canada and the United States to spur job creation and economic opportunities in our states.
We stand ready to take the necessary steps to help support your work towards the successful implementation of this agreement. We thank you for your attention to this matter and look forward to working with you to ensure safety and to improve transportation links between the United States and Canada.
PATRICK LEAHY CHARLES SCHUMER
United States Senator United States Senator
BERNARD SANDERS KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND
United States Senator United States Senator