Vermont Rail Action Network

Hi friend,

As travel resumes and the economy starts moving more trains are running – but no Amtrak in Vermont yet – and Amtrak is proposing slashing it’s national network to run only 3 days a week (a horrible idea).

Amtrak lines supported by states like Vermont (which provides operating support for the Ethan Allen and Vermonter) are particularly vulnerable as state budgets come into intense pressure from a sudden drop in gas tax, sales tax and income tax revenue. Unlike the vast majority of the state transportation budget, Amtrak support does not have a federal match (although one has been proposed by house democrats). This makes Amtrak trains an easier target.

Downeaster service in Maine has resumed (with one round trip a day). Adirondack service in New York is set to resume June 26th when the boarder reopens. Acela trains started again (3 trips a day) on June 1st. Most other Amtrak services are set to begin July 1.

But Director of Rail & Aviation Dan Delabruere said “The Governor’s office and VTrans continues to watch the numbers and be guided by the science. VTrans and Amtrak do not have a date certain for resuming the service back to Vermont.” In fact Amtrak is taking reservations on the Ethan Allen and Vermonter beginning July 1. But Delabruere said “I can tell you that as of right now we are not making plans for resuming service on July 1.”

We respect keeping safe. Vermont has achieved the lowest covid-19 rate in the country. A 14 or 7 day mandatory quarantine remains in effect for visitors to Vermont or Vermonters returning. (exceptions exist for travel to and from counties with low case numbers). No end date has been announced for the quarantine.

Still, it could be a good time to let your representatives know how important the train is and how you and/or your business are looking forward to its return when restrictions lift.

It is also a good time to contact your federal representatives to underscore the importance of the Amtrak long-distance network. Amtrak has proposed slashing schedules to only three days a week, citing lower ridership. A train that doesn’t run when people need to travel is neither useful nor economic as it still has close to the same costs as a daily train but 3/7th of the revenue. Amtrak predicts it will save $150 million from this move, but in the past when trains have been run less than daily costs have increased.

Freight traffic also diminished during the later part of the lock down, by as much as 30%, although it is slowly coming back. All the freight railroads responded by reducing freight train schedules and overtime, attempting to avoid furloughs (Vermont Rail System and Pan-Am have managed to avoid furloughs).

Canadian National reduced schedules to Saint Albans to three days a week. Canadian Pacific has dropped schedules of the former CMQ connection to the WACR in Newport down to one day a week. CP schedules on the former Delaware & Hudson were officially reduced to 4 days a week but deliveries to VRS in Whitehall became erratic, at one point going for a week without interchange. This kind of service over the long term will not help railroads gain customers or market share.

Through traffic over the WACR Connecticut River Line seems to have particularly dropped. One reason is that the Green Mountain Railroad is now rated for 286,000 lbs per car while the Connecticut River Line remains at 263,000 lbs [These are the approximate limits and may not be the exact governing limits]. CP has re-routed some traffic via Whitehall instead of Newport.

A major re-route is coming soon as the “Middlebury Tunnel” project prepares to close the Rutland-Burlington line. Traffic will move from Rutland to Bellows Falls then up through White River Junction and Essex Junction to Burlington on temporary trackage rights. Plan is to run a daytime train from Burlington running to Bellows Falls and back.

It has been a tumultuous time for the country – and a tumult that has come unequally. And we’re far from done. The economic effects are still being worked out but we know railroads are needed and have a role to play in bringing the economy back through infrastructure investment. Railroaders have kept the freight moving. We hope you’ve been ok.

Best,

Christopher Parker

Executive Director


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