Higgins, Restaino push rail service

Rick Pfeiffer, Niagara Gazette, Niagara Falls, N.Y.
·3 min read

Apr. 13—Congressman Brian Higgins (D-Buffalo) and Falls Mayor Robert Restaino Monday called on Amtrak to expand the number of trains it runs between New York and Toronto as part of a proposed $80 billion investment continued in the American Jobs plan.

The investment is part of President Joe Biden's $2 trillion infrastructure package now before Congress. Higgins and Restaino asked for the expansion of the Amtrak route between Buffalo, Niagara Falls, New York and Toronto to be a "priority" for the federal government as it makes plans to invest in rail as part of the infrastructure proposal.

At a news conference at the Falls Amtrak station, Higgins told reporters he made the joint request in a letter to Biden. Higgins wrote, "In the context of ambitious rail planning on Amtrak's part and the prospect of unprecedented investment in U.S. intercity passenger rail by the federal government, I write today to advocate that the federal government and Amtrak prioritize direct and enhanced service between Toronto, Ontario and Niagara Falls and Buffalo, New York."

The congressman noted that Toronto is a global hub of finance and culture, and Canada's largest city.

"The future economic health and vitality of Niagara Falls and Buffalo is tied to taking full advantage of the economic and life-quality opportunities that close proximity to Toronto makes available," Higgins said.

Restaino, who has repeatedly stressed the importance of cross-border travel and commerce to the Falls, hopes for economic revival. He said the availability to more rail travel could play a key role in development here.

"The expansion of jobs is vital to the Niagara Falls community," the mayor said. "Our neighbors in Canada are not just neighbors, but rather family and friends; really an extension of our community. The expansion of Amtrak service from here to Toronto, Ontario allows the connection between our communities to expand, while contributing to the growth in jobs and our economy."

Higgins and Restaino said an increased schedule of train service between Western New York and Ontario will be important not just for the local economy, but for national economic recovery as well.

A report issued by the Ontario Ministry of Finance in 2020, projected Ontario's population to increase by 31.5 per cent, or almost 4.6 million people, over the next 27 years, from an estimated 14.6 million on July 1, 2019 to almost 19.2 million by July 1, 2046.

Amtrak has released a statement supporting the investment proposed in the American Jobs plan, along with a map of Amtrak's 2035 vision for expanded rail service. The map proposes enhanced service between Buffalo, Niagara Falls and Toronto.

The rail service provider regularly operates the Maple Leaf Line, from New York City to Toronto, with stops in Niagara Falls and Buffalo, only once per day in each direction. The northbound train leaves New York City during the morning rush, doesn't arrive in Niagara Falls until late afternoon and includes a two-hour transfer time across the border due to customs processing and a U.S. to Canada crew change with final arrival at Toronto's Union Station in the early evening.

Service on the Maple Leaf line was suspended indefinitely in March of 2020 due to the pandemic.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. and Canadian governments had been negotiating instituting a shared border management agreement at the Falls crossing as well as at passenger rail crossings between Washington State and British Columbia and Quebec and Northern New York. The agreement would significantly reduce the wait time at the border.

Higgins has called for the resumption of those negotiations.

Congressman Higgins, who serves as the U.S. Chair of the Canada-US Interparlementary Exchange and as the co-chair of the Congressional Northern Border Caucus, has been pushing for the development of a plan to reopen the border between the United States and Canada by July.