Restart of Amtrak passenger rail service to Canada delayed until 2022

The return of Amtrak's cross-border passenger rail service to Canada has been delayed until early 2022, a spokesperson for the railway told CBC News.

Crew constraints, vaccine requirements have delayed Amtrak's return to Canada

An Amtrak employee looks out the window as the train pulls out of the station on Friday, June 11, 2021, at Lincoln Station, in Lincoln, Neb. Amtrak has pushed off returning rail service to Canada until 2022. (Eakin Howard/Lincoln Journal via AP Photo)

The return of Amtrak's cross-border passenger rail service to Canada has been delayed until early 2022, a spokesperson for the railway told CBC News.

Amtrak, the U.S. government-owned railway, cancelled all of its Canadian service in March 2020 as COVID-19 prompted governments on both sides of the border to limit travel to stop the spread of the deadly virus.

The Cascades train (which typically travels between Seattle, Washington and Vancouver), the Maple Leaf (which moves between New York City and Toronto) and the Adirondack, the route that takes passengers from New York City to Montreal, haven't crossed to this side of the border since the health crisis began.

And the railway service will still be offline for Canadian passengers during the coming holiday season — a busy travel period, with American Thanksgiving and Christmas falling within the last six weeks of the year. 

"We expect we're going to be restoring the current cross-border trains — we're working with customs and border protection on both sides and with the folks who own the tracks to re-establish that ... in 2022," said Marc Magliari, the Chicago-based media relations officer for the railway.

The U.S. government lifted its ban on non-essential travel by land last week, finally allowing the many Canadians with cross-border connections to travel to and from the States by car — as long as they're fully vaccinated. While the U.S. requires a COVID-19 test before arriving by air, the same standard does not apply to Canadians with both shots crossing by land.

Even though most of the U.S. land border restrictions have been lifted for those who are fully vaccinated — air travel has continued in some form since the onset of COVID-19 — the Amtrak spokesperson said the picture is more complicated for rail.

The Maple Leaf and Adirondack trains use Amtrak rail equipment but the former is staffed by VIA Rail Canada crews while north of the border — which means that while Amtrak service has resumed in the U.S., there are other considerations for those trains that travel north, said Magliari.

Vaccine requirements

"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," he said. There's no firm restart date just yet.

Amtrak requires passengers to wear masks while on board but requires no proof of vaccination. As of last month, all rail passengers in Canada must be fully vaccinated to travel. The Canadian vaccine mandate could also have implications for the Cascades train, which is operated by U.S.-based Amtrak crews.

There are also logistical concerns to work out with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) before those trains can start to take passengers over the border, Magliari said.

While most Canadian air passengers clear U.S. customs at the airport before heading south, U.S.-bound rail passengers from Ontario and Quebec have to stop at the land border for processing by customs officers.

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