Local border expert Patrick Whalen is in Ottawa Monday for the Canadian session of the Canadian-American Border Trade Alliance. The board member is among the group's representatives pushing for simpler trade and passage across the 4,000-mile-long U.S.-Canada border.
Since 9/11, crossborder travel has become far more complicated, with elaborate paperwork and many more security checks. Whalen is in Ottawa especially to push for smooth and speedy passenger train travel across the border at Niagara Falls.
"Every year I go and it's a wonderful conference because we get the upper levels of government," says Whalen, director of the Niagara Global Tourism Institute. "The president of the Canadian Border Services Agency, for example, will be at the conference. So we get to talk to the decision makers in both federal governments."
Across much of the world, travel is by train and there are elaborate measures for security and swift travel. However, in Niagara Falls it can take up to an hour for border-crossing passengers to get off the train with their property, be checked through customs and get back on their way. Whalen says Canadians want swifter travel.
"To have pre-clearance at the Niagara Falls, NY train station. It's a pretty easy thing for them to do," he says. "The inspectors that are in the Niagara Falls, ON today simply walk 350 meters across the bridge and take up positions in the positions that are in the Niagara Falls, NY train station, which were built to the specifications of U.S. customs agents. So the agents would be pretty safe."
Whalen says part of the push is for U.S. border officers to cross to the Ontario end to check people at the Niagara Falls, ON station before they cross.
Ontario is about to do an extensive re-build of that station to handle the planned large expansion of Toronto commuter GO trains to handle commuters and tourists. Within a few years, they will be year-round and bringing large numbers of riders to the Cataract Cities. That new train station could be designed for U.S. officers.
"When the GO Train comes to Niagara Falls, ON the projection I've heard is one train every 15 minutes," he says. "That's a big up from what Burlington has right now. In off-peak times, it's every 30 minutes. That's a lot of trains. That's a lot of traffic."
While GO Trains now run during the summer tourist season, full-time year-round service is supposed to start by 2023 and major construction work has started. Whalen says the two stations are less than 400 yards apart and agents could walk to the other country to check travelers.