Vermont Rail Action Network

Hi friend,

The train chasers were out this week. I even joined them! (I’m not usually that much of a “foamer” as they say, meaning one who foams at the mouth at the sight of a locomotive, but this time there were historical moments to see.)

The “Middlebury Tunnel” project replacing two bridges on Vermont Railway kicked into its most intense phase and the tracks are now gone, the concrete forms staged and pilings dug for lowering the route under the Middlebury greenVRSRichmond. Vermont Rail System began detouring over the New England Central Railroad between Burlington and Bellows Falls (and then up over the mountain back to Rutland). A single crew makes a round trip to BF timed to follow the Amtrak Vermonter down south.

With church bells ringing in the distance for 6:00 pm,Max Bisben took this shot of yesterday’s northbound coming through Richmond. The locomotives are rentals from GATX, leased for the duration of the project.

But of course there still is no Amtrak Vermonter. Most recent word is a tentative start August 3rd, but this could change depending upon the state of the virus. Travel nationwide on Amtrak has been up (more than airlines), but is still only 30-40% of normal times (travel on the northeast corridor is reduced even further). Amtrak’s Downeaster to Maine is increasing from one to four round trips starting Monday. CT Rail between New Haven Connecticut and Springfield Massachusetts is also adding service.

Nationwide, freight by truck is almost back to per-pandemic levels, but rail freight is not. Intermodal containers are at or even above last year, but carload freight is just 85% of pre-pandemic levels. Some of this reflects reflects the dominance of manufacturing in driving carload freight, vs. consumer goods in intermodal. Some of this reflects a permanent drop in coal use for power generation.

Another historic moment was the passage of the Pan-Am Railways office car train through Vermont, OCSPownellcarrying executives. Pan-Am (which cuts through Pownal and runs to Bellows Falls and White River Junction over NECR) is for sale, so railfans wondered if this was the last time to see this special train with restored streamlined GM locomotives from the fifties. (it has been to the “Glory Days” festival in White River Junction several times). Pan-Am has been a good partner and connection for Vermont Rail System. We hope that their corporate successor can maintain freight access for Vermont and continue their reliability in hosting the Amtrak Vermonter in Massachusetts.

This photo is by Kevin Burkholder in Pownal (using a drone).

I haven’t driven much of anywhere outside of town for many months now. I’m glad I made time to get out and see the trains passage. We could be looking at quite a different world when this is all over, and on the railroad, as well. Lets hold together onto what matters. Which is so many things, but good train service is one.


Christopher Parker, Executive Director


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