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Vt., Quebec discuss rail link, traffic, energy

Wilson Ring, Associated Press

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) -- Quebec Premier Pauline Marois is committed to improving rail connections between Montreal and the U.S. border, possibly taking an hour off the trip to New York, Gov. Peter Shumlin said Monday.

Shumlin, after meeting with Marois on Monday in Montreal, said a major impediment to improved rail communication remains the pre-clearance of passengers and cargo by customs officials from both countries when crossing the border.

Rail improvement projects in the U.S. Northeast and Canada have been under way for some time, and Shumlin said he, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy and Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick "are delivering on upgrading the tracks and speeding up the rail from New York to the Canadian border."

"The challenge is to get final approval of our pre-clearance so we can start moving cargo and passengers by rail," Shumlin said, but it's up to the federal governments in both countries to smooth the border crossings.

Shumlin has been committed to improving rail connections between Vermont and Quebec, including the restoration of the Amtrak service between St. Albans and Montreal. Currently, the Vermonter train ends service in St. Albans, just south of the Canadian border.

The rail improvements discussed by Shumlin and Marois include a spur to Boston.

In addition, Marois told Shumlin she was committed to expanding Autoroute 35 from the Vermont border at Highgate Springs to Montreal and hoped to be able to complete it by 2017, Shumlin said. Currently, much of the road north to Montreal from the top of Interstate 89 is on two-lane roads.

During their meeting, Shumlin and Marois signed a 15-point cooperation agreement between Vermont and Quebec.

The document didn't commit Vermont or Quebec to any specific actions, but it said the details of the agreement would be implemented using a mechanism set up by a similar 2003 agreement that created a Joint Vermont-Quebec Committee.

For years, Vermont officials have highlighted the importance of the state's relationship with Quebec, and all the points in the document have been issues of interest to the state and the province for years.

The first section of the agreement, on economic development, said Vermont and Quebec would "facilitate meetings and matchmaking" and carry out joint marketing activities such as trade missions and hospitality initiatives "to be part of major North American business networks."

It recognized that Vermont utilities import large quantities of electricity from Quebec and the provincial utility Hydro-Quebec is a major supplier of Vermont electric power.

Canada has been seeking ways to increase its exports of electricity to the power-hungry Northeastern United States. The document recognized that Vermont "is a gateway to New England for the transmission of hydroelectricity produced in Quebec."

Other sections of the agreement included:

— Pursuing a close partnership between the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources and its Quebec counterpart to help manage the international waters of Lake Memphremagog and help reduce pollutants that reach Lake Champlain's Missisquoi Bay, most of which is in Quebec;

— Recognizing the need for cross-border collaboration on shared public safety issues, including transnational organized crime and terrorism;

— Improving the flow of goods and people across the border while maintaining good security at the 15 border crossings between Vermont and Quebec; and

— Agreeing to work together to promote tourism.