It seems like an eternity ago when the U.S.-Canada border closed in March 2020, as a part of numerous actions taken by the American and Canadian federal governments to combat the coronavirus pandemic. The closure was initially scheduled to last for a month, but quickly ended up into a loop of perpetual monthly extensions as the pandemic continued. As time passed, exemptions were created for certain travelers, but only by air. The physical land border was largely impassable for private citizens by both road and rail until late 2021. Now, Amtrak is finally resuming its rail services to Canada.
Amtrak regularly had three different services across America’s northern border before the pandemic. The Maple Leaf operating between New York City and Toronto, jointly operated with Canada’s state-owned passenger rail company Via Rail. The Adirondack taking passengers from New York City to Montreal. The Cascades serving the Pacific Northwest from Seattle to Vancouver.
Last week, Amtrak resumed its Maple Leaf services. America’s state-owned national passenger rail corporation also announced yesterday that the Cascades would be returning this September. Though there are plans for the Adirondack service to return, it is not yet exactly clear when it will happen.
The return of Amtrak’s northern international routes hasn’t been smooth to say the least. Amtrak initially planned on resuming services to Canada in last December, one month after the U.S. Government allowed non-essential travel over the northern border. Then, it delayed the resumption until some point in 2022. Amtrak cited staffing shortages and vaccines mandates as the reasons for the delay.
Marc Magliari, an Amtrak representative, told the CBC:
“There’s a procedure we have to go through to re-qualify the crews who haven’t been operating the trains for quite a while. Certainly the vaccination requirements on the Canadian side need to be met — there will be inspections that come with that — all of that means we probably won’t be restoring the cross-border service until after the first of the new year.”
It’s good that Amtrak can finally get these routes back into use, especially as there has been a push by the federal government to improve rail travel across the country. As reported by The Seattle Times, the Washington state government and the provincial government of British Columbia have set aside $150 million to study the feasibility of a high-speed rail project, which would effectively replace the Cascades service. Though, the money will only be used if it’s matched by federal funding.