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Passenger Rail to Toronto Just Outside Region’s Grasp

GO
Transit’s recently announced weekend service to Niagara Falls brings Toronto to
our region’s doorstep, but not quite inside.  The new weekend and holiday service provides the Falls with
four rail and one bus round trips supplementing the 2 VIA Rail daily runs on
the Toronto – Niagara Falls, Ontario market.  The trip from downtown to downtown takes 2 hours, with a one
way regular fare ticket cost of $15.90 Canadian.

While
this service is far from High Speed Rail connectivity, it is a reasonably
frequent and cost effective alternative to driving on the Queen Elizabeth Way.

Currently,
this expanded service has very limited connections into the United States.  Only one train, the chronically tardy
joint VIA Rail/ Amtrak Maple Leaf
, connects through to Niagara Falls, Buffalo,
and on to New York. 

Is
There An Opportunity for Expansion?

 While
there is support for a High Speed Rail connection between Buffalo and Toronto
on both sides of the border, an intermediate and quickly achievable goal of
timely and frequent passenger rail service could be attained with a relatively
minimal investment.

Clearly,
one of the greatest challenges to a direct Toronto – Niagara Falls – Buffalo
connection is the customs inspection process.  Presently, after trains cross the border, agents board the
train to check passports and visas and inspect luggage.  Although the current schedule allows
for an hour and fifteen minutes into Canada and almost 2 hours into the United
States to clear the border, these trains can be delayed by passport or customs
issues.  However, there may be an
alternative to these time consuming searches. 

Where
Shared Border Management had failed before at the Peace Bridge, it could
succeed for rail service. 

While
the Peace Bridge proposal failed, in part due to impasse over locating U.S.
Customs and Border Protection personnel on Canadian soil, a rail connection
could reverse the suggested positioning of boarder control authorities.  For a northbound train, Canadian
authorities could be stationed in Niagara Falls, New York and Buffalo to
prescreen passengers before they arrive at the border.  For a U.S. bound train, arrivals could
clear customs upon arrival to Niagara Falls or Buffalo – just as incoming air
passengers are screened upon their arrival.  Passenger manifests could easily be pre-forwarded to proper
authorities –  no complications
with American agents on Canadian territory.

By
allowing passenger screening and prescreening to take place at Buffalo and the
Falls, hours of travel time could be saved while reducing costs and increasing
on-time arrivals. 

Additionally,
screening incoming rail passengers within the City of Buffalo is not completely
without precedent.  Previous
services had trains stopped and inspected upon arrival in Black Rock.  Trains would then make connections at
Exchange Street.

Expanding
and enhancing cross boarder rail service would be a smart and relatively
inexpensive investment with promising dividends for the region.  For the cost, it makes very little
sense not to explore international passenger rail’s potential.

Written by WCPerspective

WCPerspective

Buffalo and development junkie currently exiled in California.

View All Articles by WCPerspective
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