Vermonter rail line gets $50 million for upgrades

By:  Bob Audette
Brattleboro Reformer

BRATTLEBORO -- Rail travel in Vermont will soon be on the fast track.

It was announced Wednesday evening that the Amtrak Vermonter will be the beneficiary of $50 million to be used to improve the rail line the train runs on from Springfield, Mass., to St. Albans.

The $50 million is part of an $8 billion national investment in the country’s high speed rail system, part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

More than $55 billion in applications were submitted.

The money will help pay for the construction of new track and roadbed and bridge improvements along 190 miles of the railroad track.

The upgrade will reduce trip times and improve reliability.

A $70 million project in Massachusetts to upgrade and reroute rail tracks along the Connecticut River will also benefit Vermont.

The upgrades will provide for a shorter and more direct route for the Vermonter between Springfield, Mass., and East Northfield, Mass.

Currently, the rail line travels to Amherst and Palmer, Mass.

The new line will run parallel to the Connecticut River and shave one hour off the trip between New York City and St. Albans.

The upgrades will be great for Brattleboro and southern Vermont, said Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt.

"Brattleboro is the gateway to Vermont," he said, adding railroads go back to "the roots of transportation" in the Green Mountain State.

"This is a tremendous opportunity for Vermont’s economy and Vermont’s quality of life," said Welch.

Not only will it immediately create jobs, it will also create jobs into the future, he said.

One local rail aficionado was delighted by the announcement.

"This is wonderful news," said Carl Fowler, of the Rail Travel Center in Putney.

With new signals, elevated and banked tracks and welded seams, the speed limit for the Vermonter could be increased from 60 miles per hour to 79, he said, shortening the trip between St. Albans and New York City by one hour.

The upgrades should also increase the reliability of the train and very significantly improve the "marketability" of the rail service to populations in New York and Washington, D.C., said Fowler, bringing people to Vermont to spend money.

Vermont’s congressional delegation issued a press release announcing the grant disbursement.

"This is the biggest, single investment in passenger rail improvements we have had in Vermont since Amtrak was created, and it’s just the ticket for a shorter and smoother ride on the Vermonter," said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.

Amtrak brings direct and indirect commerce to Vermont, he said, as well as giving Vermonters more travel options.

"This is an investment in our future and a vote of confidence in this rail line," said Leahy.

The grant will create much-needed jobs in Vermont, said Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt, and provide a long-term boost for the state.

But that’s not all, stated Sanders.

"It will help Vermont become energy efficient as we strengthen our public transportation," he stated.

Another $500,000 was awarded to pay for studies for a proposed rerouting of Amtrak’s Ethan Allen Express service between Rutland and New York.