I’m spending a lot of time listening to the Vermont House and Senate transportation committee since the legislature is in session. Yesterday the Senate transportation committee had the railroads testify, giving updates. I’ve summarized for you below, but you can listen to the recording here  if you want.
Both railroads, the New England Central (NECR) and Vermont Rail System (VRS), have long standing collegial relationships between top management and senators and representatives on the respective transportation committees. It was a supportive audience.
Bringing the Vermont rail network up to the new national freight car weight limit of 286,000 lbs. has been a long time top priority and we are *very* close to getting most of the network at that level. NECR is already there, as is the VRS from Whitehall to Rutland to Burlington. The route from Rutland to North Bennington and Hoosick Junction is getting all it’s bridges rebuilt to 286 thanks to a federal grant. This leaves the Green Mountain Railroad between Rutland and Bellows Falls is a key link remaining at 263 which is increasingly a competitive problem for VRS with an urgency that has risen in the last months. One bridge – #145, the Cuttingsville “Missing Pier” bridge over route 103 remains to block the higher limit. Repairs are estimated at $1 million, but not in this year’s budget despite the state’s responsibility for state owned bridges.
286 is a longstanding priority of the Vermont Rail Action Network. It helps make freight railroads more competitive and to move more freight with minimal additional environmental impact. Vermont Rail Action Network would like to see this capital expense in this year’s budget.
Over the last few years, Vermont Rail System has moved granite tailings out of the Quarry district in Barre, headed to breakwater projects on the great lakes. Now a new port facility in New London Connecticut (the south end of NECR) is being built by Mohawk Northeast to trans-load granite from rail to barge for New York City area projects.
Granite also moves _to_ Barre, quarried elsewhere but finished by Barre craftspeople. This may reflect a non-union cost advantage in the south or it may provide different colors and characteristics of stone.
As a controlled environment, railroads are ten times safer than highway transport. NECR proudly completed 2021 with zero FRA reportable accidents and zero injuries.
VRS President Selden Houghton invented cheap switch monitors using cell phone connections that alert dispatchers and engineers if switches are left open. Over the years, human nature being what it is, switches accidently left lined into a side track have been the cause of tragic derailments. Previously, devices to electrically lock mainline switches cost a quarter million per switch, but VRS was able to equip all 67 switches between Rutland and Burlington for a fraction of that cost. NECR is now testing these sensors and expects to add them on their line.
The switch monitors on VRS are part of the safety case for an exemption of Positive Train Control between Rutland and Burlington. Another aspect is moving the New Haven station away from the track. So is separating freight trains and passenger so there will be no frights moving when Amtrak is on the move, meaning no meets (and thus one less opportunity for human nature to cause calamity).
Unfortunately, the most dangerous spot on the railroad (but not for train riders) is where the public crosses the tracks, as a pedestrian or driver. Crossing lights and gates have been upgraded, but we also know that people don’t stop and get themselves killed. Vermont supports a state chapter of Operation Lifesaver, which coordinates volunteer workshops for drivers ed classes, police officers and public events to raise public awareness. You can see in the numbers that they have made a difference.
Wishing you the best,
Christopher Parker Executive Director
(802) 536-4607 railvermont.org/civicrm/?civiwp=CiviCRM&q=civicrm/mailing/url&u=602&qid=49743
VERMONT RAIL ACTION NETWORK
PO BOX 6094 RUTLAND, VT 05702-6094 United States
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