Thursday, December 4, 2008

Rough Track Ahead for Vermont Trains

Amtrak's two state-supported routes in Vermont face elimination or truncation due to state budget woes, the Burlington Free Press reports. It quotes a spokesman for the state transportation agency who said either the New York - Rutland Ethan Allen Express or the Washington - St. Albans Vermonter could be eliminated. Another possibility would be discontining the Vermonter just north of White River Junction.

The spokesman said the state needs to cut $21 billion from its transportation budget. Vermont currently pays Amtrak $5 million a year to subsidize the two trains.

The move would come at a time when ridership on Amtrak's Vermont routes is up 17 percent year-over-year. It also would represent a continuation of the state's retreat from strong support for passenger service.

Vermont began subsizing passenger service after Amtrak discontinued its overnight Washington - Montreal run, the Montrealer in the mid-1990s and replaced it with a day train, the Vermonter. The Ethan Allen Express, which extended one of the runs on the New York - Albany-Rensselaer Empire Corridor, began a few years after.

The new train was part of an ambitious, but unfufilled, plan for a New York - Burlington train that would run almost the entire length of Vermont's west side over rehabilitated Vermont Railway track south of Rutland. Currently the Ethan Allen Express uses the Canandian Pacific line through Saratoga Springs, NY. A commuter line out of Burlington, the Champlain Flyer, was eliminated earlier this decade. In addition, custom-painted baggage cars were removed from both Amtrak runs in a cost-cutting effort.

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