CNN TELEVISION GETS IT ALL WRONG—RAIL THE BEST TRANSPORTATION INVESTMENT TODAY
CNN TV News decided to ridicule a $52 million investment completed last year in Vermont in a lengthy “feature” segment. The money upgraded track and bridges to a national standard for freight and for passenger operations at 80 mph up from the past 60 mph.
Having just finished a commuter rail policy paper for Chittenden County-Washington County commuter rail which requires less financial operating support per passenger mile (nine cents) than the “free” parking space a typical solo commuter enjoys, I can attest the investment in the roughly 180 mile corridor St. Albans to the Massachusetts border represents an outstanding and timely investment. The Census numbers show of over 7,000 added workers in Vermont 2000-2010 less than 100 more--that’s right less than one hundred more–workers in Vermont drove or rode to work in a car. The car age ended about 20 years ago and now by the hundreds Vermont workers abandon car commuting each year to go to work on--yes!--on buses, or by walking, bicycling or working at home. Now the time has arrived to add commuter rail passengers to the mix and the federal rail investments facilitates that action.
The Burlington Link buses for commuters to Montpelier, St. Albans and Middlebury which began a decade ago and cost $4 each way now carry almost 500 commuters on 50 buses each workday. And 50 more commuters jump on the Link service each year while maybe another 10 statewide choose to ride to work in a car. We need commuter rail now (and intercity too). Of course we need to extend the Ethan Allen Amtrak train from Rutland to Burlington and the Vermonter to its original destination in Montreal. Those projects move forward, though far too slowly. The Vermonter starting from Washington was part of the reason for the continued investment by the U.S. in four states at the north end of the route to upgrade in order to sharply reduce schedule times and increase market share. Amtrak knows a lot about market share as it recently hit 72 percent of the rail-air share of travelers between New York and Washington and topped 50 percent for the same group between New York and Boston.
We should look at the rail line upgrade--dwarfed by Vermont’s billion dollar highway capital expenditures each decade--as a truly fortunate development for Vermont and a catalyst for rapid rail passenger and freight services expansion.
Maybe CNN should take another look at the trends in Vermont and national transportation. The rate of the under 30 crowd with driver licenses drop of 20 percent and the national car travel miles for all age groups has declined in the last decade. But one must admit, a nice shot of an Amtrak train or an empty track is a far more enticing visual than a young American without a driver license or someone walking to work rather rather than in a the fancy car of a sponsor.