Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Second Thoughts in Vermont

The Albany Times Union reports the state of Vermont will continue to subsidize its two Amtrak passenger trains, the Vermonter and the Ethan Allan Express. Earlier reports said one of two trains would be eliminated or truncated in an effort to eliminate a shortfall in the state's budget.

Perhaps state officials are taking their cues from rail advocate Carl Fowler, who in an op-ed published in the Rutland Herald called the proposed cutbacks "penny-wise and pound-foolish." Fowler, vice president of the Rail Travel Center in Putney, Vermont, said the state should look for ways to increase revenue for the two trains, which posted ridership gains of 17.5 percent and 17.1 percent, respectively, for FY 2008.

Reinstating a St. Albans-to-Montreal bus connection to the Vermonter would "add a minimum of 30 passengers per day to the train, cover all incremental expenses, and add ridership of 15 percent to the Vermonter route, while increasing rail revenues by at least $500,000 per year, with no increase in train costs," he said.

Fowler suggested that state-supported bus services from Newport and St. Johnsbury to White River Junction and from Middlebury to Rutland should should stop at train depots, coordinate schedules with trains and offer joint ticketing. Re-equipping the trains with new diesel multiple-unit equipment would double fuel efficiency, provide a more comfortable ride and speed up running times. Congress has budgeted $2 million to pay for this equipment.

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