Senator says Canadian Side’s Cumbersome Screening Process Adds Time To Commute & Discourages Ridership
Standing once again at Niagara Falls’ state-of-the-art Amtrak train station, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today urged the Canadian government to stop stalling and implement pre-clearance for rail travelers seeking to enter Canada through the station via Amtrak.
In 2016, Schumer successfully fought to pass his legislation, the Promoting Travel, Commerce and National Security Act of 2016, which expanded U.S. jurisdiction over the American Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents that are operating in Canada, pursuant to border security agreements. Canada passed similar legislation into law in December 2017, setting the stage for a pre-clearance program that would greatly expedite cross-border travel on Amtrak’s Maple Leaf train and boost the border economy of Western New York.
Even though the new Niagara Falls International Railway Station, which Schumer and the late Rep. Louise Slaughter led the charge to construct, was designed to accommodate this pre-clearance program, the Canadians have failed to move their personnel and make pre-clearance a reality. Therefore, Schumer called on the Canadian government to take immediate action and get the pre-clearance program up and running.
Making pre-clearance a reality at this rail crossing will establish a more robust link between Western New York and Southern Ontario, paving the way for Schumer’s goal of a bi-national commuter transit system between Toronto and Western New York. Such a link would greatly boost cross-border commerce and both regional economies, as a result.
“From its earliest stages of development, the Niagara Falls International Railway Station was designed to contain a state-of-the-art pre-clearance facility, allowing Western New Yorkers and all Americans to travel to and from Canada’s Toronto Metro Area with ease, boosting commerce between our regions and both of our economies. Today, even though we were successful in our years-long effort to transform the Niagara Falls Customhouse into a vibrant, multi-modal transportation hub, that pre-clearance facility remains under-utilized for no good reason whatsoever,” said Senator Schumer.
“With legislation passed by both the American and Canadian governments in preparation for pre-clearance, and the official pre-clearance expansion agreement signed last year, it’s high time to get this economy-jolting system up-and-running. That’s why today, I’m urging our neighbors in the north to lay down the tracks for pre-clearance and get it moving full steam ahead,” he adds.
Schumer said that the ability to pass through customs before people board a train to enter Canada would be a remarkable convenience for anyone seeking to travel between the U.S. and Canada.
Currently, passengers must board a train in Niagara Falls on the American side, then disembark in a less secure space in Ontario for a customs check after just having boarded the train, before re-boarding and continuing their trip. Schumer referred to this process as unnecessarily cumbersome, and argued that it could be easily avoided.
Furthermore, Schumer said, the Niagara Falls International Railway Station was designed to accommodate such a pre-clearance system, and is home to a brand new, pre-clearance-ready space that meets all modern IT and spatial requirements, and would be a significant upgrade for the Canadian officials.
On the heels of the completion of major renovations of the Whirlpool Bridge, Schumer argued, the time could not be better for Canadian customs officials to undertake pre-clearance at the Niagara Falls International Railway Station on the American side, which is located right next to the bridge.
The pre-clearance expansion agreement between the U.S. and Canadian governments was agreed to last summer, which Schumer called a good first step in easing the burden of crossing the border while still maintaining the integrity of all necessary safety protocols. However, he said, to unlock the full economy-boosting potential of the new, multi-modal train station, the pre-clearance program must be fully implemented.
“The Niagara Falls Bridge Commission is extremely appreciative of the longstanding focus and attention that Senator Schumer has dedicated to both the Canadian-American travel and trade relationship and issues involving the efficiency of operations at the Buffalo-Niagara region’s four international border crossings,” said Kenneth Bieger, NFBC General Manager.
“Our organization remains open to any and all approaches to enhancing Port of Entry facilities, technologies, and conveyance processes, and will continue to work seamlessly with Senator Schumer and our partners at U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Canada Border Services Agency in evaluating their applicability of the pre-clearance concept,” Bieger adds.
The Niagara Falls International Railway Station officially opened its doors in 2016, after Schumer, the late Rep. Slaughter, and the local community’s years-long battle to upgrade what was then known as the Niagara Falls Customhouse.
The Niagara Falls Customhouse was built in 1863 and operated by the federal government from 1867 well into the 1980s. The new hub houses an Amtrak station that allows New Yorkers to travel both nationally and internationally, a border inspection facility designed with the pre-clearance program in mind, and the Underground Railroad Interpretive Center, which features historic exhibits detailing Niagara County’s role in Underground Railroad history—as slaves escaped the south to find freedom in the north, with some continuing on to Canada.
The new complex is meant to help create a new economic dynamic in Niagara Falls by establishing a transportation and cultural hub, which can boost the Western New York economy even further should the pre-clearance program be implemented.
Schumer was involved in every stage of the Niagara Falls International Railway Station’s development, securing millions in federal funding for the project and helping the local Niagara County community cut through red tape.
In 2010, Schumer, along with the late Representative Louise Slaughter and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, announced that they had successfully fought for a $16.5 million Department of Transportation TIGER grant for the new train station, a crowning achievement allowing the long-sought and sorely-needed station to become a reality. The TIGER grant program, now known as the Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) grant program, is one of the most competitive grant programs facilitated by the federal government, showing the true promise and worthiness of the Niagara Falls International Railway Station.
For that potential to be met, the Canadian Government must first finalize its pre-clearance program, to increase passenger traffic at the station and take the first step toward establishing a bi-national commuter transit system between Western New York and the Toronto Metro Area.
A copy of Schumer’s letter to the Canadian government appears below.
Dear Minister Blair,
I write on behalf of the new, state-of-the-art train station in Niagara Falls, New York. It has been my privilege over the last decade to secure funding for this new station and help see this project through from the groundbreaking to the ribbon-cutting. This station was designed to accommodate pre-clearance for passengers entering both the United States and Canada. However, despite the available infrastructure and a willingness on the part of local officials and United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP), pre-clearance is still not available for rail passengers entering Canada.
On the heels of the completion of renovations at the Whirlpool Bridge, the time could not be better for Canadian customs officials to undertake pre-clearance at the Niagara Falls Train Station on the American side. The pre-clearance expansion agreement that was agreed to by our two countries last summer is a good first step in easing the burden of crossing the border while still maintaining the integrity of all necessary safety protocols. The ability to pass through customs before they board the train and enter Canada would be a remarkable convenience for anyone seeking to travel between our two countries by rail. Instead, passengers must board a train in Niagara Falls, New York, then disembark in a less secure space in Ontario for a customs check, before re-boarding the train and continuing on. This cumbersome process can be avoided, all while affording the Canadian customs officials the luxury and convenience of a brand new, pre-clearance-ready space that meets all modern IT and spatial requirements.
Establishing a pre-clearance partnership is the first step in increasing passenger traffic at the Niagara Falls Train Station and establishing an even more robust link between Western New York and Southern Ontario via commuter rail. I greatly encourage the Canadian government to take this first step, and am willing to help in any way possible.
Please feel free to contact me or a member of my staff if you have any questions or if I can be of further assistance.