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Updates on Ethan Allen to Burlington preparations and getting back to Montreal were presented by VTrans at Thursday’s Vermont Governor’ Rail Advisory Council.
“In general, we are full steam ahead,” reported Vtrans Project Manager Paul Libby.
Work is almost finished on the platform at Burlington Union Station [Main Street Landing], the storage siding in Burlington yard, some crossings in Burlington and an additional side track at Florance in Pittsford.
Supply chain uncertainties regarding switches for Burlington siding have been resolved. Switches are now scheduled to arrive at the end of next month and will be installed in the spring when the ground has thawed.
The siding in Florance will allow freight switching for Omya to continue without using the main track as is current practice. He Pittsford siding is essential to the startup because “it is a condition to our PTC exemption,” according to Rai & Aviation Director Dan Delabruere.
The move of the New Haven VT station is scheduled for this winter and funded. “It has to go in the winter because we’re counting on the field to be frozen,” reports Trini Brasard, project Manager for VTrans.
“If everything goes as planned right now, I really feel like we’ll be in good shape by end of June, early July,” predicts Delabruere.
The revised schedule of the Ethan Allen [3] that went into effect in early December will be base schedule when the train is extended to Burlington. Delabruere described some of the factors that went into the timing. “There was a lot that went into this,” Delabruere said. “While Amtrak had input into it, this was driven by us,” he said.
Delabruere said one significant driver of the timing is the conditions of the mainline track exemption from PTC [Positive train control, which on other lines can stop the train automatically should it pass a red signal or exceed the speed limit]. The exemption require all freight trains to be off the track when the Amtrak train runs; meets will not be permitted. Currently a freight train runs north from Rutland to Burlington in the morning, bringing oil and gasoline for Burlington and other commodities.
“There was a lot of confusion around the existing Ethan Allen schedule,” Delabruere said. The new schedule gives one time, seven days a week.
According to Delabruere, the agency looked at passenger projections from Amtrak for different options.
Passengers will still have a travel option similar to the previous timetable if they take the new connecting Vermont Trans Lines bus which travels route 7 to connect to Amtrak in Albany, council member Carl Fowler reminded the group. There will be three departures each way: the Ethan Allen and two buses. Schedule of the buses available here [4].
“We do gain a connection with the Lake Shore Ltd. That was actually one of the goals that we heard for many years,” Delabruere said.
Vermonter ridership in October 2021 was down only 13.4% compared to 2019. The Ethan Allen was up 4% from 2019. “In terms of recovery ridership it is an extraordinary accomplishment,” said Fowler. “I think our launch on July 19 put us in the papers and put us in people’s minds,” said Toni Clithero, AOT Rail Grants Manager
Part of the recently passed infrastructure bill will fund replacement of the fleet of Amfleet cars and GE “genesis” locomotives now used on Amtrak trains in the region. Siemens “venture” coaches and “charger” locomotives have been ordered. Delivery will take some time, perhaps 5 years for the Vermonter and closer to 10 for the Ethan Allen. Locomotives for the Vermonter will be duel mode diesel/electric, eliminating the engine change at New Haven. Locomotives for the Ethan Allen (which are already duel mode) will be diesel / battery, in essence a hybrid that can be charged off the third rail in New York City. The new cars will have wheelchair lifts built into the car.
An update on the discussions for returning trans to montreal was provided by Karen Songhurst, VTrans Policy Analyst. “Things are still happening,” she reports, even with CoVid. “Things with Quebec are very strong. The relationship is great.
Quebec Ministry of Transport will lead the (second) study of facilities at Montreal Central Station, funding, coordinating with Canadian Federal agencies and construction of the new facility. “The work that happens in Canada is not something we can demand, require or direct,” said Vermont Transportation Secretary Joe Flynn. “Minister Bonnerdel was very clear in his dialogue with Secretary Flynn that he is putting the highest priority on this,” Songhurst stated. “The Ministry itself has given the file to get things up and moving to one of the most senior persons in the Ministry.”
Flynn has made three trips to Quebec and keeps in “frequent contact” with Minister Bonnerdel. Governor Phil Scott has met with Quebec Premier François Legault and brought up the issue.
The Quebec government is already dialogueing with the Canadian National Railroad including identifying necessary track upgrades. CN has lately announced a downgrading of the Rousess Point connection track to 10mph and thrown up difficulties for Amtrak in re qualifying Adirondack crews on the route.
“Vermont met with senior Amtrak leadership. They have been appraised that this is now Vermont’s #1 priority,” Songhurst said. “They are stepping up to the plate.”
Part of the dialogue involves funding, some of which Songhurst hopes will flow from the Federal Railroad Administration through Amtrak which has the ability to let contracts in Canada.
Songhurst, who has led Montreal efforts for some years, will be retiring from the agency at the end of December after a 25 year career. Over the years Karen has worked on various rail freight and passenger issues. “I think it is an open secret that there are a lot of rail advocates in the agency and Karen is one,” said Costa Pappis, VTrans AICP Planning Manager
_Below: Burlington Platform with station in background. Canopy will be re-installed shortly (picture, courtesy VTrans)._
Wishing you the best,
Christopher Parker Executive Director
(802) 536-4607 railvermont.org/civicrm/?civiwp=CiviCRM&q=civicrm/mailing/url&u=484&qid=39276
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