Thursday, June 21, 2012

Grant aids Montrealer’s return, advocates say

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The $7.9 million TIGER IV grant announced Wednesday by the Department of Transportation, bestowed to the Vermont Agency of Transportation and the New England Central Railroad (NECR), will boost efforts to restore Amtrak's Montrealer, linking the train's namesake city with New York City via Burlington, Vt. , advocates said Thursday.

"The award shows the confidence in the state of Vermont and the railroad by the Federal Department of Transportation," said Christopher Parker, executive director of the Vermont Rail Action Network, an advocacy group. Parker noted Vermont's TIGER IV grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation was given to primarily to improve freight train speeds and raise weight limits for freight, but passenger trains also eventually would benefit.

The federal funds will help pay for 19 miles of new welded rail, ties, ballast, and bridge upgrades that will raise speeds to 40 mph for freight (and 59 mph for passenger trains). The weight limit will rise from 263,000 pounds per car to 286,000 pounds. resulting in a competitive benefit for Vermont. Vermont is providing $7 million and the NECR, owned by RailAmerica, Inc., is contributing $3 million.

Said Parker, "This award checks off one of four steps needed to extend Amtrak's Vermonter to Montreal," said Parker. "Progress is happening on the other three items as well, thanks to Vermont House and Senate member] efforts and the work of the Agency of Transportation and Amtrak." St. Albans, Vt., has been Amtrak's northern terminus for the Vermonter since 1995, when the Montrealer's route was cut back.

Efforts to offer a workable customs procedure involving pre-clearance in Montreal have been advanced by congressional members from both Vermont and New York State, both for Amtrak's existing Adirondack, which links the two cities via New York State, and any future extension of the Vermonter across the Canadian border to Montreal. Amtrak reportedly is working on a service plan in collaboration with the Agency of Transportation.