The state’s commitment to Amtrak service in Vermont and Vermont’s rail network was evident at Wednesday’s meeting of the Governor’s Rail Council.
We are very pleased to have heard directly from Vermont Transportation Secretary Joe Flynn, who indicated that Amtrak is very much on the mind of the state and indicated that “we can expect a date very shortly.” “Nobody should doubt the administration’s commitment,” Flynn said.
Secretary Flynn directly referenced the concern of rail advocates, indicating that your voices are heard. Flynn asked for patience.
The science of the virus and the financial situation of the Vermont transportation budget are factors governing resumption of service, according to Flynn. While funding for Amtrak service does remain in the 2021 budget, there was an expectation of revenues from ridership that COVID has chased away.
Ridership before COVID was rising healthily, the Rail Council heard – on the Vermonter an increase between 2-4% each month compared to the prior year and a 10.5% increase on the Ethan Allen. Revenue on the Vermonter was up 7%, suggesting capacity limits causing fare increases, probably reflecting the strong ridership out of Northampton, MA.
Photo by Kevin Burkholder, used by permission (thank you, Kevin!).
Investments to support both passenger and freight rail are continuing. Updates were
presented to the Rail Council on the Middlebury tunnel, Burlington rail yard, All Earth Rail, Operation Lifesaver, service to Montreal, and an update to the state rail plan.
The state took pains to emphasize how the variety of projects currently ongoing demonstrated the commitment of the state to intercity passenger rail (and indeed in the rail network in general).
In Middlebury, tracks have been laid through the new “Middlebury Tunnel” and detour freight trains will end on Friday September 17 th, resuming direct Rutland – Burlington freight service while the project is finished up. Construction of the Middlebury station platform (which will be on the west side of the track, in approximately the same location as the original Rutland station) will begin when the tunnel project is finished up.
The image below is an artists rendition of downtown Middlebury after the tunnel project is completed:
Modifications to the Burlington rail yard were presented to the Rail Council, showing the additional track to be laid for overnight storage of Amtrak’s Ethan Allen. The track will serve double duty as a passing track, easing congestion between passenger and yard switching trains.
Photos of the beautifully restored Vergennes train station and the accompanying newly laid platform were also shown.
Upgrades between Rutland and Burlington are almost complete. The Rutland wye
reconstruction is happening now.
Work on extending train service to Montreal continues – another conference call is occurring next month.
We are looking forward to seeing the state’s commitment to passenger rail translated into a date for resumption of service.
We appreciate Joe Flynn’s assurance of the state’s commitment to the resumption of service when it is appropriate. We appreciate knowing that an announcement is coming. We also appreciate his and the administration’s support of the science – although it is our job as rail advocates to communicate the importance of the service, we are citizens first and in this pandemic we are all in this together.
We also appreciate you for your continuing support of rail in your own way. Thank you.
Christopher Parker, Executive Director