Gov. Peter Shumlin’s point person on the restoration of train service between Vermont and Montréal reported to lawmakers Tuesday that the project is still on track.
Brian Searles, former secretary of transportation, noted two promising developments in recent weeks — the introduction of a bill in Congress that would enable negotiations to begin, and a promise from new Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during his U.S. visit that Parliament would pass similar authorization this spring.
Amtrak’s Vermonter, which now runs between St. Albans and Washington, D.C., used to go to Montréal, until 1995, Searles said. But requirements for crew changes and a border stop created lengthy delays “that basically rendered it noncompetitive with the auto,” he said.
The U.S. and Canada signed an agreement last year that opened the door for development of a preclearance facility at Central Station in Montréal. The plan would be for passengers heading south from Montréal to clear customs and immigration at the Montréal facility and travel without stops through the border to St. Albans or beyond. Similarly, passengers going north could board at various stops in the U.S., including several in Vermont, and travel without stopping to the clearance facility in Montréal.
Brian Searles, former transportation secretary, came to the Statehouse to update lawmakers on train service to Montréal.
“What kind of security is involved?” Sen. Dick Mazza (D-Grand Isle) asked. Searles predicted it would be similar to airport security. “You can expect you would have to arrive a little earlier,” he said.
Another Amtrak train — the Adirondack — already connects New York and Montréal. It, too, would benefit from the preclearance facility, since it often takes more than an hour to clear the border. Searles said that the Vermonter would tap potential passengers in Boston and other New England locations.
Even if both Congress and Parliament take quick action on the needed authorizations, Searles said, there are many facets of the project yet to be determined — such as the configuration of the clearance facility and who will pay for it. Canada also needs to make track improvements. Vermont has completed upgrades along the Vermonter’s route and improvements are under way in states to the south.
Searles said the challenge to restoration of this cross-border service is complicated. It is still several years off, he said, adding, “There is no one who thinks this is a bad idea.”