Security is always a concern whenever anyone discusses anything related to cross-border travel.
In the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, a lot changed in terms of how the United States and Canada approach security issues related to transportation on the ground, in the air and by rail.
Still, it has been nearly two decades since that dark day changed virtually everything about the North American way of life.
At this point, it seems, there’s ample room to discuss ways to lessen the barriers that make travel between the two countries more arduous, provided, of course, that reasonable security measures remain in place.
One of the issues here remains pre-clearance for rail passengers seeking to enter Canada via Amtrak trains running through the Niagara Falls International Railway Station.
A tentative plan has been in place since 2016 that would allow passengers to be pre-cleared in an effort to expedite cross-border travel by train.
Last week, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York, suggested the time has come to move that plan forward to full implementation in an effort to “boost the border economy of Western New York.”
As he correctly noted, the Niagara Falls train station was designed to accommodate such a program so it could serve as a link between the Niagara Frontier and southern Ontario.
While pre-clearance holds promise for the American side of Niagara Falls, it should be viewed as more of a “win-win” situation, as it seems certain that the economy in Niagara Falls, Ontario, would benefit from additional travelers as well.
The only question to ask now is the one Schumer has already asked: “What’s the hold up?”
According to Schumer, partly, it’s related to what he described as bureaucratic inertia on the part of Canadian authorities. He called on them to “stop stalling” and get moving and it’s hard to argue with his line of thinking.
Niagara Falls, USA, with funding and support from state and federal officials, built a state-of-the-art, $40 million train station with a goal of eventually connecting it to a larger rail network that officials hoped would include connections to Niagara Falls, Ontario, and the greater Toronto area.
Instead, the station is largely underused and without the sort of ties that allows rail passengers to travel between the two countries in a reasonable fashion.
“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,” Schumer said.
For its part, Canadian border officials have noted that Canada currently does not have pre-clearance operations in the United States and is continuing to consider adding them, although there are no specific timeframes for approval.
While it is not in the interest of either the United States or Canada to rush into any sort of arrangement that might put people’s lives at risk, it seems — some three years since the opening of Niagara Falls International Railway Station — that this matter warrants more attention and a greater sense of urgency.