State aims to boost rail use

Montreal service on track for 2019

Elaine Ezerins

By Elaine Ezerins

Staff Writer

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‘Vermont is poised to significantly expand passenger rail in the very near future.’

- David Coen, Vermont Transportation Board

ST. ALBANS — The state’s Transportation Board outlined the future of rail in Vermont, both passenger and freight, at a public forum hosted at the St. Albans Museum Thursday night.

This was the fifth in a series of forums held around the state, at which the board recorded public comments on passenger rail expansion and the impact of rail expansion on trucking, to later pass on in a report to the Agency of Transportation.

“Vermont is poised to significantly expand passenger rail in the very near future, while at the same time the state also is seeking growth opportunities for both the movement and off-loading of freight,” said David Coen, chair of the board.

“As a result, we want to have a conversation with Vermonters to both hear their suggestions as well as understand their concerns regarding these new services and how the state uses its rail lines,” Coen continued.

The board’s Executive Secretary John Zicconi listed off some data around state spending and ridership before outlining the proposals for passenger rail expansion.

  • Since 2014, Vermont has allocated a yearly average of $35 million, out of a $600 million transportation budget, to rail.
  • The state pays $8 million annually to subsidize two passenger routes: the Vermonter and the Ethan Allen Express.
  • Passenger train ridership has nearly doubled since 2010. Of the 79,800 trips taken on the Vermonter in 2013, 42 percent were to New York. Of the 21,000 trips taken on the Ethan Allen Express that same year, 84 percent were to New York.
  • Nearly all ridership on the Ethan Allen is interstate while the Vermonter has seen an increase in intra-state trips, from three percent in 2003 to 12 percent in 2013, for a total of 8,400 riders.

The Vermont Comprehensive Energy Plan set the goal of having 400,000 rail passengers by 2030. This would be accomplished through new rail services, including:

  • Commuter rail from Brattleboro to Springfield, Mass: goal 2017/2018
  • Extend Vermonter to Montreal: goal 2019
  • Expand Western Corridor from Rutland to Burlington: goal 2020/2021
  • The Agency of Transportation also plans to release a feasibility study on commuter rail between St. Albans and Montpelier in January.

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