Earlier this month, Canadian officials approved a preclearance agreement that expands the ability of border agents from the U.S. and Canada to collaborate. It’s also expected to accelerate passenger rail crossings at the border.
In December 2016, President Obama signed a bill approving expansion of preclearance procedures between the U.S and Canada. But, it was not until this month that Canada approved a companion bill.
Implementing the revisions has been a top priority of the Plattsburgh/North Country Chamber of Commerce for more than two years. President and CEO Garry Douglas calls it an important continuation of the Beyond the Border process that the two countries are undertaking. “One of the most important developments is the pre-clearance agreement. What it essentially does is it broadens and makes easier the ability for both countries to have their border officers operate in the other country to do pre-clearance of things where that makes more sense. Examples are some of our border crossing where the geography is very constrained like at the Peace Bridge in Buffalo also at the Massena/Cornwall crossing. Things can't be built and developed and you can't have the capacity to adequately handle the flow but you could if you could do it on the other side in the other country. This will now open the door for that.”
Douglas adds that the new laws resolve a long-standing impediment to clearing passenger trains between Canada and the U.S. “Everybody would like to see faster rail service. But if we could resolve the historic need for the train coming out of Montreal and then stopping at Rouses Point for an hour and a half or more at times while U.S. Customs agents have to go on and clear people on the train there at the border. Now we’ll be able to have U.S. Customs at Central Station in downtown Montreal. They will clear people when they board the train. There may still need to be a perfunctory stop at the border. But that long stoppage will be eliminated and we will facilitate rail travel between our two countries.”
Amtrak Director of Operation Service Planning Ed Courtemanch says the new rules will help create a standardized crossing procedure for rail passengers. “We cross the border at three locations in two directions each and there are six variations of what happens. And that is because there is no standard process and the border agencies would really like to have a standard process. But there is no standard process because the physical configuration and the operation at each location is different.”
Courtemanch cautions that it could be three years before state-of-the-art facilities are ready to pre-clear rail passengers. “First of all it won't be right away. Now that the legislation has been signed in both countries the border agencies can proceed to write their design specifications and regulations for pre-clearance. It will really advance the state-of-the-art for rail travelers going across the border and open up new travel possibilities.”
Amtrak crosses into Canada at three locations: Rouses Point/Lacolle, Niagara Falls, NY and Ontario, and at a pre-inspection site between Seattle and Vancouver. Amtrak says Vermont has expressed interest in restoring passenger rail service to Montreal once preclearance is operational.