News & Reviews News Wire Amtrak service to Canadian cities remains on hold

Amtrak service to Canadian cities remains on hold

By Bob Johnston | November 4, 2021

| Last updated on April 4, 2024

Canadian government requires passengers to prove they have been vaccinated; resumption awaits finalizing of procedures

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People waiting in line inside passenger station
Amtrak Cascades passengers await customs pre-clearance at Vancouver, B.C.’s Pacific Central station in August 2015. Cross-border vaccine rules are complicating efforts to resume Amtrak service to Canada. Bob Johnston

WASHINGTON, D.C. — While Greyhound announced last week that it will resume cross-border intercity bus service between U.S. and Canadian destinations Nov. 8, no firm date has been finalized for restoring Amtrak trains serving Vancouver, B.C., Toronto, and Montreal.

U.S. citizens have been able to visit Canada since Aug. 9, but Canadians won’t be able to enter the U.S. until next Monday.

A significant factor complicating cross-border travel aboard the Amtrak Cascades from Seattle, and the Maple Leaf and Adirondack from New York, is Canada’s mandatory vaccination requirement. Beginning last Saturday, all travelers over 12 years and four months must be fully vaccinated, as outlined on VIA Rail Canada’s website.

In a “transition period” through Nov. 29, proof of a negative COVID-19 molecular (not rapid antigen) test administered within 72 hours of the scheduled departure time is being allowed.

Currently, all Amtrak passengers must wear face masks, but no proof of vaccination is required.

“Amtrak Cascades is waiting for both countries to finalize protocols for train passengers crossing the border — particularly related to vaccine verification processes and negative COVID tests,” Washington State Department of Transportation Rail, Freight and Ports Division spokeswoman Janet Matkin tells Trains News Wire. “Once those protocols are in place and Amtrak has incorporated them into its onboarding processes, we will announce a date for resumption of service to Vancouver, B.C. Tickets will go on sale at the same time.”

She says Seattle-Vancouver, B.C., Amtrak operating crews were requalified earlier this year, “so that will not be needed to be done for our service to resume.”

Amtrak train arrives at shelter across tracks from lake
The southbound Adirondack from Montreal prepares to stop at Port Kent, N.Y., in September 2016. The station, across Lake Champlain from Burlington, Vt., has been without Amtrak service for more than a year and a half. No date has been set for the train’s return. Bob Johnston

That information was not available from either New York Department of Transportation or Amtrak sources for the eastern trains, but Amtrak’s Marc Magliari tells Trains News Wire, “When we have dates to start selling tickets, we will have announcements, perhaps with different start dates for each route.” The company has posted a passenger service notice on its website.

With the border closed, the Adirondack has not operated since March 2020. Saratoga Springs and Fort Edward-Glens Falls, N.Y., regained service on a 38-mile portion of the 222-mile route north of Schenectady, N.Y., to Montreal, when the Vermont-sponsored Ethan Allen to Rutland, Vt., resumed on July 19, 2021. Westport, Plattsburgh, and other New York communities south of the Canadian border have been without the state-sponsored Amtrak service for more than a year and a half.

Customs complications

The Adirondack and the Maple Leaf, which is staffed as a VIA Rail Canada train between Niagara Falls, Ontario, and Toronto, have always suffered long border crossing delays, sometimes as much as an hour. The trains stop while U.S. Border Patrol and Canadian Customs agents interrogate passengers. Additional COVID-19 restrictions may exacerbate the ordeal.

The same fate doesn’t impact Amtrak Cascades travelers because everyone clears customs in a secure area at Pacific Central Station in Vancouver, B.C. The process efficiently handles hundreds of passengers.

Pre-clearance on the Toronto route would be difficult to achieve because there are several intermediate stops in Canada. But a treaty was signed between the two countries in 2019 that would make pre-clearance in a secure area at Montreal’s Central Station possible for Adirondack passengers and those riding a possible extension of the Vermonter, which currently runs between Washington, D.C., and St. Albans, Vt.

But that initiative has not progressed because the building of the Montreal station customs facility has not moved forward. Amtrak spokesman Jason Abrams tells News Wire, “Pre-clearance (at Montreal) will not be in effect once Amtrak resumes service to Canada. We continue to work with our partners on both sides of the border and hope to have a project plan with timeline in the foreseeable future.”

10 thoughts on “Amtrak service to Canadian cities remains on hold

  1. Will someone please explain how Greyhound is doing it seemingly with no major problems? It’s always the passenger train service that gets tripped up by some mechanism or other while the other transportation modes glide right on through. With the Adirondack cut back to Albany/Rensselaer since the March 2020, if not before, I wonder if NYState was able to reduce what it pays Amtrak per the PRIIA209. If not NYStateDOT should have taken steps to allow that train to run to Plattsburgh.

    1. It’s actually pretty simple.

      Amtrak is still running the busses to Canadian cities, – same thing Greyhound does.

      Problem is the train. Why? Because when you take the bus down there, everyone (as always) gets off and walks into the border offices on foot for clearance, where things like the needed scanners for vaccine and test verification are already in place (as that’s a government thing) – so Greyhound and Amtrak Cascades Bus services just rely on the border office having their stuff ready due to individuals arriving by car.

      Meanwhile if you take the train, you do the security clearance and whatnot at the trainstation prior to departure, same as at an airport – with a guy only walking thru said train at the border, in which case he can check your passport to see if it’s valid cause it’s distinct enough, but maybe they have no portable device to verify the tests/vaccine stuff yet – or the border agency is simply not willing to provide that – which means Amtrak would have to do that at their station – which they might just not be able to yet.

      At restaurants here in Canada staff just looks at the vaccine passport, reads your name and looks at your ID – but you could totally use a fake one as they can’t scan those QR codes there, and anyone could just– photoshop it. Can’t really do that at an international border.

    1. Until the mask mandates end I’m not on a train or a bus. Airplanes because I have to.

  2. Since the virus is everywhere, specifically including both sides of every border in the entire world, closing borders makes no sense now.

    Nor did it ever to start with.

    1. Thus the justification for keeping the southern border wide open. (Just kidding, Charles. I think there’s another reason.)

  3. This to be self inflicted pain. Meanwhile our southern border is flooded and no one seems to mind. We live in crazy times.

    1. Probably should clarify because the south is flooded with illegals where as a legal visit to come and go is not happening just as much from the south as up north. My family waiting on Govt to interview and issue a valid visa so they can buy a round trip airplane ticket, spend money and visit us.
      Can certainly comprehend on why and wouldn’t blame someone trying to get out of a really crappy life for a better life but the current admin trips over themselves wanting to discourage a legal visit from somehow who will follow all the protocals, can afford & will buy a roundtrip airline ticket, spend money & doesn’t want to stay boggles my mind.

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