Vermonter Extension to Montreal

This page details steps that have been underway for well over a decade to extend Amtrak’s Vermonter service north to Montréal.

Montreal Central Station / Pascal Normand
Montréal Central Station / Pascal Normand

As part of this project, a new joint customs and immigration facility is to be built at Montreal Central Station for the Canada Border Security Agency and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

This facility would allow Amtrak passengers departing from Montreal on the Vermonter and Adirondack to clear U.S. customs and immigration prior to boarding the train, using a process that is known as preclearance.

In the reverse direction, passengers on these two trains would clear Canadian customs and immigration upon arrival in Montreal.

This setup would be similar to the way that passengers on flights to/from the United States are processed at airports in Canada today.

The Vermonter would travel from St. Albans, Vt. to Montréal, a distance of 71 miles (114 km), over track that is owned by New England Central Railroad [St. Albans to the international border], and Canadian National Railway (CN) [from the border into Montreal Central Station.)

As of August 2019 all of the necessary agreements are in place between Canada and the United States so that preclearance can legally take place at Central Station in Montreal.

The next step is for the Ministry of Transportation of Quebec (MTQ), the Government of Canada, and the owners of Montreal Central Station to develop a site plan and operation agreement for the planned preclearance facility in the station.


Timeline

March 31, 1995 | Amtrak canceled its overnight train the Montrealer which had provided daily service between Washington, DC and Montreal. The train is replaced with a daytime train, the Vermonter, that provides service as far north as St. Albans, VT.

2009 | Amtrak prepares a preliminary design for a Preclearance facility to be located adjacent to track 23 at Montreal Central Station.

2012–2014 | The 18.8 miles (30.3 km) of railroad track between St. Albans, Vt. and the U.S.-Canadian border was upgraded to allow future passenger trains on this stretch of track to operate at a maximum speed of 59 miles (95 km) per hour.

2015 | A Phase I planning study, part of a multi-jurisdictional effort by New York State Department of Transportation, the Vermont Agency of Transportation, Ministry of Transportation of Quebec (MTQ) , and Amtrak, to develop a passenger preclearance/clearance facility for use by both Amtrak’s Adirondack and Vermonter trains inside Montreal Central Station, was completed.

March 16, 2015 | The United States and Canada signed the “Agreement on Land, Rail, Marine, and Air Transport Preclearance Between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of Canada.” The agreement, among other things, allows for the establishment of a preclearance facility in Central Station.

December 2016 | The U.S. Congress passed H.R. 6431, the “Promoting Travel, Commerce, and National Security Act of 2016”, which allows for the expansion of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection preclearance facilities in Canada. This bill was signed by President Obama on December 16, 2016.

July 18, 2017 | Amtrak operated a special trip in conjunction with New England Central Railroad, Canadian National Railway and various government officials from the US and Canada, to inspect the route from St. Albans, Vermont to Montreal, Quebec.

Amtrak inspection train crossing East Alburgh, Vt. en route to Montreal | July 18, 2017
By Kevin Burkholder / Steel Wheels Photography | Used with Permission

December 12, 2017 | The Canadian government passed into law Bill C-23, the Preclearance Act, 2016″ which allows for the establishment of U.S. Customs and Border Protection preclearance facilities in Montreal Central Station.

September 2018 | At a meeting of the Eastern Border Transportation Coalition (EBTC) it was reported that Canada is working to complete the necessary “rail mode” regulations for Land, Rail, and Marine Transport Preclearance by 2020.

August 15, 2019 | The Government of Canada announced that Canada and the U.S. have brought into force the Agreement on Land, Rail, Marine, and Air Transport Preclearance between the Government of Canada and the Government of the United States of America.

September 2019 | Amtrak issues a letter of intent to the states of New York and Vermont, and the Province of Quebec, to expedite the effort to establish a preclearance facility at Montreal Central Station and related infrastructure improvements between the border and Montreal.

March 2020 | At a meeting of the Empire State Passengers Association an Amtrak representative announced that the parties involved with this project are now updating the previous study work (related to rail preclearance at Central Station) and that the environmental and other review processes would be completed in 2020.

Late 2020 | The States of Vermont and New York, the Province of Quebec and Amtrak resumed their efforts to develop a secure preclearance facility inside Montreal Central Station. Studies to evaluate connectivity and security issues along the corridor between Central Station and the border, as well as a detailed design study of the needed modifications is expected to move forward in 2021.

November 15, 2021 | President Biden signed into law the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The law requires Amtrak (in Section. 22212) to submit a report to Congress that identifies challenges to Amtrak’s operations in Canada, and a set of recommendation to improve service — including the feasibility of and costs associated with a preclearance facility or facilities. The report is due no later than November 15, 2022.


Interested and involved parties

In Canada

Transport Canada, Ministère des Transports (Quebec), Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), Canadian National Railway (the owner of the rail corridor north of the border), Cominar Real Estate Investment Trust (the owner of Montreal Central Station), Via Rail Canada (the national passenger railroad in Canada), and Exo (the operator of the public transit system in Montreal.

In the United States

Amtrak, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the Department of Homeland Security, members of Congress in New York and Vermont, the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans), the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT), as well as the following rail advocacy organizations — the Empire State Passenger Association, Trains In The Valley, and the Vermont Rail Action Network.


Further reading

News stories

“The Vermontrealer? It’s a long way back for passenger rail to Montreal”
By C. B. Hall | VTDigger.org | May 24, 2015

“Pre-clearance deal advances Montrealer train”
By Jasper Craven | VTDigger.com | January 16, 2017

“Preclearance issues extend wait for rail service to Montreal”
By Alexandre Silberman | VTDigger.com | August 15, 2019

“New pact seen speeding cross-border train service”
By Eric Anderson | Albany Times-Union | August 21, 2019

Background information

Amtrak International Operations to Canada (PDF)
Eastern Border Transportation Coalition | September 11, 2012

Cross Border Passenger Rail Service Progress Report (PPT) [archived]
Transportation Border Working Group | April 23, 2013

International Rail Passenger Update (PDF) [archived]
Transportation Border Working Group | March 4, 2015

Last Update: November 22, 2021
Last Reviewed: May 31, 2021