Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Vermont House OKs Ethan Allen rail extension

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The Vermont House of Representatives passed a resolution Tuesday, April 8, 2014, supporting a "Western Corridor" extension of passenger rail service from Rutland, Vt., to Burlington, the state's largest city.

The proposed extension is essentially an addition to Amtrak's state-supported Ethan Allen Express (seen at left at Rutland, Vt. the current northern terminus).

The resolution in part urges the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) "to engage with NYDOT to prepare a joint application for a federal grant for capital upgrades to the rail line from Mechanicville [N.Y.] to Rutland [Vt.], so that both agencies are prepared to submit a strong grant application in the event that federal grant funds for intercity passenger rail service become available."

The resolution also stresses that "residents of, and visitors to, both New York and Vermont would benefit from the new service."

Last September VTrans secured an $8.9 million federal Transportation Investment Generating Economy Recovery (TIGER) grant to rehabilitate 20 miles of rail right-of-way along the state's western edge, designed to improve right-of-way between Rutland and Leicester, and aid passenger rail restoration along 65 miles of right-of-way oversee by short line Vermont Railway. The Federal Railroad Administration reportedly has yet to sign off on the final details of the grant.

Vermont Rail Action Network, a grassroots passenger rail advocacy group, hailed the news. "It is significant to have the legislature's full support on the longtime goal of extending the Ethan Allen up the Western Corridor to Burlington, Vermont's largest city," Executive Director Christopher Parker told Railway Age. "The Vermont Rail Action Network has worked for this project, both behind the scenes and as a coordinating voice among many supporters. Governor [Peter] Shumlin has made this one of his priorities. Key has been the support of many local and business leaders including local mayors, every Chamber of Commerce on the route, colleges, legislators, and many others.

"We have just 12 miles of welded rail left to fund and install before the route attains passenger competitive speeds, so we are close, very close," Parker added.