VERMONT LEADERS BEHIND THE TIMES SITTING ON THEIR HANDS WHILE RAIL PASSENGER SERVICE COULD HANDLE WORKERS COMMUTING TO AND FROM MAJOR EMPLOYERS, INSULATE THE TOURIST INDUSTRY FROM HIGH GAS PRICES, AND IN TIME CONNECT ALL LARGE CITY AND TOWN CENTERS...
Three studies of Vermont commuter rail services dating from 1989 continue gathering dust while the recent raging success of commuter bus services radiating from Burlington demonstrates installing in-state inter-city and commuter rail passenger services continues long overdue. In-state rail passenger operations enable citizens and visitors alike an alternative to cars bringing needed support to Vermont city and town centers, the tourist industry as well as to workers and major employers like IBM, State complexes, Fletcher Allen Hospital and several colleges.
Vermonters for decades supported and continue to voice support for a post-auto transportation system built around Amtrak and other rail passenger services, a network of urban and rural public transit services, and bicycle and walking facilities.
For the better part of a decade the Chittenden County Transportation Authority (CCTA) Burlington-Montpelier commuter “Link” services between Burlington and Montpelier surged. Expanded peak commuter runs and a mid-day run serve both cities. Today Montpelier Link totals sixteen buses each workday carrying about 200 commuters between the two cities with over 20 passengers per bus. Based on Census data the Montpelier Link handles about a third of all commuter trips between Montpelier and Burlington. These Burlington-Montpelier commuters equal about 3.1 million vehicle miles of solo driving off the highways. The overall Link services which include Burlington to St. Albans, Middlebury, and Milton plus Montpelier easily represent a shift of over 1% of annual vehicle miles in Vermont from cars to buses, even taking into consideration that without the Links considerable car pooling would be the alternative for many of these commuters.
Providing year-round rail passenger service can be accomplished by utilizing available single or double unit self-propelled rail-diesel cars which obtain about five miles per gallon. With new train control technology which utilizes radio and satellite connections desired service frequency can be attained. Consider the prime Montpelier-Burlington route, for example. The New England Central rail line from the Massachusetts border to St. Albans via Brattleboro, Bellows Falls, White River Jct., Randolph, Northfield, Montpelier Jct., and Essex Jct. supports the 60 mph rail speeds for current Amtrak services. The Montpelier-Burlington run which would probably start from Barre also enables a stop at the parking lot of the State's largest private employer, IBM, just before Essex Jct. Upgrade of the five mile line from Essex Jct. to Burlington's Union Station is a must. At some future point even a spur connection to Burlngton International Airport becomes possible.
All three rail studies employ self-propelled rail vehicles for basic services. One study almost mirrors the radiating Link services out of Burlington. A second study focuses on a rectangular intercity service—Rutland-Bellows Falls-White River Jct.-Montpelier-Burlington-Rutland—all of this rail in place is either owned by the State or New England Central Railroad. This study emphasizes services to the tourist industry and inter-city trains as well as commuters. Any in-State rail services can also spur additional use of the Amtrak interstate trains from New York and southern New England which continue to experience yearly passenger numbers growth to new records, often at a double digit pace.
It is time for “Vermont trains” to start. Over time rail passenger and commuter services can extend connections to all major towns and cities re-establishing a network which becomes a safe, sustainable, backbone transportation network for the State.