PTC Issues Could Sideline Vermont Trains

Amtrak service to Vermont could become a casualty of the wrangling over the installation and implementation of positive train control.

The state funds the Vermonter and Ethan Allen Express, both of which link the Green Mountain State with New York City.

In testimony given on Feb. 15 to a congressional committee, Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson noted that the tracks Amtrak uses in Vermont are exempt from a federal law that requires that PTC be installed by the end of 2018.

In his testimony, Anderson said he doubted that the Vermont services would continue operating as a result, but Amtrak later clarified that the passenger carrier has yet to make a decision on that.

Anderson had said that Amtrak won’t operate over tracks that are not in compliance with federal law pertaining to PTC.

“[f]or those instances, where we will not have PTC even after the 12/31 deadline because It’s not required by statute, we have a question about whether we’re going to operate at all, and I doubt we will,” Anderson told the committee.

The next day, though, Amtrak assistant vice president for operations Chris Jagodzinski said the carrier is launching a risk analysis of its 21,000 miles of routes.

Jogodizinski spoke at a meeting in Washington with the States for Passenger Rail Coalition with some state officials listening in via a conference call.

“They’re just having their first risk analysis meeting today,” said Dan Delabruere, who heads up Vermont’s passenger rail program at the Agency of Transportation.

Delabruere said Amtrak officials said that the scope of that analysis remains to be determined.

“There certainly wasn’t a hard, fast, ‘We’re going to stop’,” he said, referring to Jagodzinski’s comments in regards to Amtrak’s Vermont service.

Vermont public officials have rallied in support of saving the state’s service.

Senator Patrick Leahy said in an email statement, that Amtrak’s managers “have not made any decisions to halt service in Vermont or elsewhere. I will keep working to secure sufficient funding support for Amtrak so it has the resources it needs to continue providing safe service for Vermonters.”

Dan McLean, press representative for Senator Bernie Sanders, wrote, “Bernie does not want to see service suspended. But he does want to see PTC on all passenger and freight trains as soon as possible” as a matter of upgrading infrastructure.

The track used by the Vermonter is owned by the New England Central Railroad while Vermont Rail System owns rails used by the Ethan Allen Express.

Lee Khan, chairman of the Vermont Rail Action Network rail passenger service advocacy group thinks that Anderson is overreacting.

“It’s ridiculous. Our railroads have been safe – we have two of the safest short lines in the country,” she said. “It’s frightening . . . to cancel service. This is an economic driver in this state. It’s hard to imagine that Amtrak would do this. We’ll fight it every step of the way.”

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