03.16.15

Leahy Hails U.S.-Canada Pre-Clearance Agreement That Brings Closer The Goal Of Restoring Vermont-To-Montreal Passenger Rail Service

. . . Agreement Also A Precursor To Easier Transit At Burlington International Airport For Canadian Visitors

WASHINGTON (MONDAY, March 16, 2015) -- Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) says years of work on the goal of restoring passenger rail service between Vermont and Montreal took a major step forward Monday as the United States and Canada signed a long-awaited agreement designed to improve cross border travel and security between the two countries.

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and Canadian Minister of Public Safety Steven Blaney signed a new pre-clearance agreement in Washington that was negotiated under the Beyond the Border Action Plan approved earlier by President Obama and Prime Minister Stephen Harper. 

Pre-clearance facilities allow travelers to pass through U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) inspections prior to traveling, permitting them to quickly move along to their destinations upon arrival in the United States.  A new agreement has been needed before discussions and work on creating a pre-clearance facility at Montreal’s Central Station -- and re-establishing train service between Vermont and Montreal -- could happen.  The agreement is also a positive step for improving the travel experience on the air service between Burlington International Airport and Toronto City Airport.

Leahy, who has long pushed for a pre-clearance agreement, a prerequisite for restoring The Montrealer train service, said:  “Vermonters and Quebeckers have a long, special and enduring relationship.  Many families, like our own, have relatives and friends on both sides of our border.  Marcelle was born in Newport, to parents who emigrated from Quebec.  Vermont and Canada also are close partners in trade, commerce and tourism and as joint stewards of our shared communities.  Both nations are striving to ensure that our border is secure.  This agreement has long been a goal, and a dream, for Vermonters who have fond memories of rail trips to Montreal to enjoy all that its vibrant cultural capital has to offer.  This is also a win for visitors from Canada’s largest cities who are eager to visit Vermont to ski, shop and dine.  I commend Secretary Johnson and Minister Blaney for their commitment to forging this agreement that will greatly benefit the economies of our state and nation.”  

Leahy has worked with the Department of Homeland Security and many other partners over several years to restart passenger rail service between Vermont and Montreal.  He has also sought to ease, expand and improve air service between Burlington International Airport and Toronto’s Billy Bishop 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 operations relieve congestion at U.S. airports, improve commerce, save money, and provide national security benefits.  Leahy is the Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which shares jurisdiction over CBP, and he serves on the Appropriations Committee’s Homeland Security Subcommittee --  which oversees the Senate’s work on the annual DHS budget bill – and he is the most senior member of the Appropriations Committee overall. 

Amtrak’s Montrealer line used to run service between Washington, D.C., 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.  Leahy has long worked to restore this service, and Governor Peter Shumlin has made it one of his administration’s top priorities.

A key to restoring Amtrak service between Vermont and Montreal is the creation of a preclearance facility in Montreal’s Central Station.  This would eliminate the need for the train to stop at the U.S. border to allow CBP officers to inspect passengers, a process that currently takes about an hour on the Amtrak’s Adirondack Line in New York. Today, air travelers from Toronto’s Billy Bishop Airport to Burlington International Airport must deplane and pass through customs at a separate facility before re-boarding the plane to be transported to the airport terminal.  Leahy continues to work with CBP on proposals to establish preclearance operations at these Canadian travel hubs. 

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