A significant hurdle to the resumption of Amtrak rail service through Vermont to Montreal was cleared Monday when the United States and Canada signed an agreement allowing the creation of a U.S. Customs facility in Montreal.
The agreement marks a long-awaited starting point for the effort to begin in earnest to restore service to Montreal. This year marks 20 years since the Amtrak Montrealer stopped running.
However, many hurdles remain. Most fall to the state – not the federal government – to resolve.
“These are complicated issues. A lot of them will require funding and the state of Vermont is currently going through some funding and financial difficulties,” says Deputy Secretary of Transportation Chris Cole.
Cole says the remaining issues include upgrading the tracks north of the border, securing train access to the Victoria Bridge across the St. Lawrence River, resolving union labor issues and paying the cost of actually operating the train.
Vermont currently partners with Massachusetts, Connecticut and New York to pay for the two Amtrak routes that run through the state.
Cole says all of the states and the Province of Quebec want to see service to Montreal resumed.
“To me it’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when. It’s a question of how do we appropriately apportion the costs amongst all the parties that are going to benefit from the service,” he says.
Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, who has pushed for the agreement, applauded the milestone in easing travel between the U.S. and Canada.
“We have to have an agreement like this. Then we can go forward,” Leahy says. “Especially since 9/11, it has become so unnecessarily difficult at times. Let’s get back to recognizing the fact we have two very friendly countries that border each other.”
Leahy is also working to establish a pre-clearance facility for flyers who travel between Toronto and Burlington, who currently have to go through a cumbersome customs check.