Vermont moves closer to improved air and rail travel with Canada

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Vermont moves closer to improved air and rail travel with Canada

Thu, 12/14/2017 - 3:30pm -- tim

Amtrak takes on passengers at the popular Essex Junction stop in 2016. VBM file photo.

Vermont Business Magazine Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) hails action this week by the Canadian Parliament to pass new customs preclearance language into law that will make possible improved rail and air travel between Vermont – and other points in the United States -- and Canada. For an Amtrak rail crossing, Vermont officials have previously told VBM that logistics would still have to be worked out in setting up a station in Montreal to handle customs, among other prerequisites.

Amtrak’s Montrealer line used to run service between Washington, DC, and Montreal, Quebec, serving nine Vermont stations along the way.  That cross-border service ended in 1995, when St. Albans became the terminus for the new Vermonter train. Even with this step forward, service to Montreal would still be several years away.

The Canadian Senate passed the legislation, known as C-23, last week, and the bill took its last step in the Canadian legislative process on Tuesday night, receiving Royal Assent.  The bill is companion legislation to Leahy’s Promoting Travel, Commerce, and National Security Act, which became law in 2016.  With the law’s adoption, streamlined customs procedures will be implemented for air travel – and eventually passenger rail service – between Burlington and Canadian cities, and between other U.S. and Canadian destinations.  Following enactment of C-23, the Canadian government will work to adopt implementing regulations.

Leahy said:  “Passage of C-23 is a major milestone that brings Vermont another crucial step closer to smoother travel to Canada.  I had a very positive call this week with the Canadian Ambassador to the United States, David MacNaughton, about the vital ways that expanded preclearance will help strengthen ties between Vermont and Canada.  With this legislation now in place, Canada and the United States – and especially Vermont -- are poised to reap the rewards of improved border security and better economic growth.  I look forward to continuing my work and partnership with the Canadian government to make expanded preclearance a reality.”

The international agreement advances two of Leahy’s key national goals: enhancing U.S. national security, and increasing efficiency for travelers and commercial exchanges.  Leahy has long advocated improving cross-border travel and was the driving force behind this effort, writing the bill, forging the bipartisan and bicameral coalition, and guiding its passage through the Senate and into law.

The United States currently operates preclearance facilities at 15 airports in 6 countries, including Canada.  These facilities allow individuals to pass through Customs and Border Protection (CBP) inspections prior to traveling, expediting their arrival in the United States, and protecting national security by preventing those who should not be traveling to the United States from doing so before they arrive.  Under a new agreement, the United States will expand its preclearance operations in Canada.  The Leahy-authored legislation ensures that the United States has the legal authority to hold U.S. officials accountable if they engage in wrongdoing while stationed in Canada – a necessary prerequisite to full implementation of this agreement.

These international, cross-border efforts remove all legislative hurdles to the creation of a preclearance facility at Montreal’s Central Station, for reestablishing passenger train service between Vermont and Montreal, and is a step forward to improve air service between Burlington International Airport and Toronto City Airport.  The United States currently stations CBP officers in select locations in Canada to inspect passengers and cargo bound for the United States before they leave Canada.  These preclearance operations relieve congestion at U.S. airports, improve commerce, save money, and provide national security benefits.

(THURSDAY, Dec. 14, 2017) -- Senator Patrick Leahy