Posts Tagged ‘Vermont Agency of Transportation’

Illinois, Vermont Trains Coming Back July 19

May 21, 2021

Suspended Illinois-funded corridor trains will resume operation on July 19. On the same day, the Vermonter and Ethan Allen Express will also return to service.

The Illinois Department of Transportation said that it is restoring service as part of its Rebuild Illinois capital plan.

One daily roundtrip each will be added to the Chicago-Quincy and Chicago-Carbondale routes while two roundtrips will be restored to the Chicago-St. Louis corridor.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic the Chicago-Quincy Carl Sandburg was suspended along with the Chicago to Carbondale Saluki and Carbondale to Chicago Illini.

Those suspended trains left Chicago in the morning and returned in the evening.

In Vermont, the Vermont Agency of Transportation said the Vermonter will return between St. Albans, Vermont, and Washington.

Also coming back is the Ethan Allen Express between Rutland, Vermont, and New York.

Amtrak Vermont Service to Resume July 19

April 9, 2021

Amtrak service to Vermont will resume on July 19.

The service has been suspended for more than a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Among the trains suspended since March 26, 2020, are the Washington-St. Albans Vermonter and the New York-Rutland Ethan Allen Express.

The routes will be among the last of those suspended during the pandemic to resume service.

“We are very pleased to announce the restart of these vital transportation services for Vermonters and those who wish to travel to and from Vermont by train or bus,” Transportation Secretary Joe Flynn said in a statement.

 “With the Governor’s announcement this week of the Vermont Forward Plan to re-open Vermont fully during the next few months, we now have a target date for when we will be able to safely resume Amtrak and transit services.”

Amtrak Service Expansion Threatens Historic Depot

February 2, 2021

An Amtrak service expansion may result in the demolition of an historic railroad station in Vermont.

The station, which was built in the 1850s is located in New Haven, Vermont, and said to be too close to tracks that Amtrak would use to expand service to Burlington.

The station is owned by the Vermont Agency of Transportation.

Officials say the station posts a safety risk because of its proximity to the tracks.

The station is currently occupied by a construction company that has been told to vacate the building by June.

Moving the depot is seen as a long shot option because of its cost and the need to have it moved by fall.

However, an effort is apparently underway to raise money to save and move the station, which was constructed by the Rutland & Burlington Railroad.

The depot is believed to have been built between 1852 and 1853 although there is no evidence available to indicate the date of construction.

Vt. City Wants More Info About Amtrak Expansion Plan

November 6, 2019

A plan to bring Amtrak to Burlington, Vermont, has hit a snag.

The city council is asking Vermont’s Agency of Transportation about plans to extend Amtrak service to Burlington after several residents expressed opposition to having the trains layover at Burlington Union Station.

Vermont officials are eyeing extending the state-funded Ethan Allen Express from its current northern terminus of Rutland, Vermont, to Burlington in 2021 or 2022.

The state transportation agency has proposed building a second track in front of the station between King and College streets that would be used to store the trainset overnight.

The 900-foot track has drawn objections from residents who contend storing the train at the station will bring additional noise and pollution, with some saying it would destroy their quality of life.

One person who spoke at a council meeting contended the location could become a railroad yard for host railroad Vermont Rail System.

He said once the siding is built “the railroad will do whatever it wants and we’ll be powerless to stop it.”

Some are also concerned that construction of the siding will displace an existing bike trail.

The council has expressed concern about the cost to replace it.

Train Storage Site in Burlington Raises Concerns

August 13, 2019

A developer in Burlington, Vermont, has raised concerns about a proposal to store Amtrak trains overnight at the city’s Union Station.

The issue has arisen because the state-supported Ethan Allen Express is expected to be extended to Burlington in 2021 or 2022.

The Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission has identified five potential sites to store the trains between runs with Union Station ranked at the top of the list.

However, Melinda Moulton, CEO of Main Street Landing said storing trains along the waterfront would threaten its current use as a public park and recreation area.

“By allowing the railroad to basically expand the railroad onto the waterfront, it’s not just about expanding an Amtrak,” said Moulton, who supports the return of rail. “It’s about changing the character of the community.”

Eleni Churchill, the regional planning commission’s transportation director, said the study examined air quality and noise as well as other factors.

“We actually had a very colorful public meeting, I would say,” Churchill said. “A lot of people came out to give us their comments, and that was good. We needed to hear all that.”

The Vermont Agency of Transportation, which funds the Ethan Allen Express, will make the final decision on where the trains are to be stored overnight.

The Ethan Allen Express currently operates between New York and Rutland, Vermont.

The extension to Burlington would add additional stations in Middlebury and Vergennes.

The equipment to be used for the service includes two locomotives and five passenger cars.

Churchill said that regardless of where the train is stored overnight, a siding will be built adjacent to the existing railroad track along the waterfront because the line is used for freight service.

Nick Cartularo, a VTrans spokesperson, said the report created by the Chittenden planning agency is not binding and there is no set timeline for making a decision on where to store the train.

Also sites studied for storing and servicing the trains during their layover include two sections of the Urban Reserve, land north of the waterfront near the bike path; Flynn Avenue, next to the new City Market store; and the existing railroad near Perkins Pier.

Union Station topped the list because it would have a low impact on current train operations.

It also had advantages in terms of cost, infrastructure, horn noise and travel distance for the crews.

It also was rated the closest site in proximity to residences and posted the worst score for air quality and emissions.

Vermont City Favor Seeking Rail Study Federal Grant

July 17, 2019

The city council in Barre, Vermont, narrowly voted last week to support a bid to win federal funds to study the possible restoration of intercity rail passenger service.

The service would operate between Barre and Montpelier, Vermont.

The vote was 4-2 with Mayor Lucas Herring casting the deciding vote.

The grant application will be submitted by the Central Vermont Regional Planning Commission, which hopes to land Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Vermont’s Agency of Transportation must submit a report by December detailing the estimated costs of upgrading the state-owned rail line and a timeline for potential construction.

Voting against the resolution was council member John Steinman, who said the the two cities are already connected by the “under capacity” Green Mountain Transit system.

Steinman said self-propelled buses would be a better transportation choice than rail.

Brattleboro Hopes to See More Rail Service

April 5, 2019

Officials in Bratleboro, Vermont, are hoping that an extension of CTrail trains from Springfield to Greenfield, Massachusetts might be a sign of additional service to their city.

The trains will provide additional service in coordination with Amtrak between Greenfield and New York City.

Funding for the Greenfield service is being provided by Massachusetts on a two-year trial basis for $1 million. The trains are expected to draw 24,000 passengers a year.

Brattleboro is served by Amtrak’s Vermonter, which operates daily between St. Albans, Vermont, and Washington.

The Vermont Agency of Transportation, which provides funding for the Vermonter, is watching the Greenfield extension, but has no plans to seek an extension of that service to Battleboro, said Dan Delabruere, the agency’s rail program director.

“The issue of course is cost,” said state Rep. Mollie Burke, a member of the Vermont House of Representative’’s Committee on Transportation.

“Vermont pays Amtrak to run in Vermont, and it is all state money.” The state currently pays Amtrak $8.3 million for the Vermonter and Ethan Allen Express.
Burke said the state is considering providing bus service from Brattleboro to Greenfield that would connect with the CTrail trains to New York.

Some Vermont rail advocates would like to see not just additional rail service north of Greenfield, but a reinstatement of service to Montreal.

Burke said extending the Vermonter to Montreal won’t happen until the Canadian Province of Quebec funds track repair and a secure immigration facility is created in Montreal.

She noted that the U.S. and Canada reached an agreement to allow U.S. immigration officers on Canadian soil but the Vermont’s top passenger rail priority at the moment is extending the Ethan Allen Express north of Rutland, Vermont, to Burlington, Vermont.

“There is state money for improvements along the Western Corridor,” Burke said. “The only federal money we receive for rail comes from competitive grants and some Federal Highway Administration formula funds.”

Vermonters Still Wary Of Service Future

May 3, 2018

Although Vermont officials and rail passenger advocates are optimistic that Amtrak service to their state will survive, they are not taking that for granted.

Many in Vermont became alarmed after Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson told a congressional hearing in February that the passenger carrier would likely suspend service using routes that are not protected by positive train control.

Anderson was speaking about the prospect that some of its host railroads might not meet a Dec. 31, 2018, deadline set by federal law to install PTC.

However, the New York-Rutland Ethan Allen Express and Washington-St. Albans Vermonter use routes in the Green Mountain state that are not required to have PTC under federal law.

Both trains are funded in part by the State of Vermont.

Following Anderson’s comment an Amtrak government affairs manager tried to downplay the matter, suggesting that Vermont’s trains are likely to continue.

Amtrak is studying how and if to operate on route that are not required to have PTC.

However, of late Vermont officials have sound the alarm again because they say that Amtrak officials have been noncommittal in speaking about the future of the Vermont service.

They say Amtrak has not yet ruled out the possibility at the Vermonter and Ethan Allen Express will cease operating to Vermont on Jan. 1, 2019.

Another complication, Vermont officials say, is the prospect that a segment of the Vermonter’s route in Massachusetts may not meet administrative requirements that would reassure Amtrak of its safety.

The segment in question is 49 miles owned by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation that it purchased in 2014 from Pan Am Railways so that the Vermonter would reach a higher population base.

The resulted in rerouting the Vermonter from a route via Amherst to a route via Northhampton.

There are no plans at present to install PTC on that line.

There is little rail traffic on the route and the Federal Railroad Administration might be willing to grant it a waiver from the PTC requirement.

The Vermont Business Magazine said it had spoken with two sources who attended an April 16 meeting in Washington of the Rail Passenger Association, a national advocacy group.

During that meeting, Chris Jagodzinski, Amtrak’s vice president for operations, displayed a map indicating, in practice, the relative likelihood that Amtrak would cease serving certain route segments.

The sources said the 49-mile segment in Massachusetts is rated among the highest-risk routes because its lacks a PTC plan.

Vermont officials fear that Amtrak might refuse to run the Vermonter north of Springfield and instead carry passengers there by bus.

They also fear that once rail service is lost, it might be difficult to get it back.

A MassDOT spokesperson declined to comment on the PTC issue other than to make an innocuous statement in support of rail passenger service and referring specific questions to Amtrak.

Nonetheless, a source told the Vermont Business Magazine that MassDOT is working with the FRA, Amtrak and Pan Am to resolve the PTC issue, which the source said appears to be “solvable” by the PTC deadline.

An Amtrak spokesperson said the carrier is just now beginning to undertake a safety review of the Ethan Allen route and has yet to begin the review of the Vermonter route.

Federal law requires that if service is to be terminated by Amtrak, it must give 180 days notice. If service to Vermont is end or be suspended on Jan. 1, 2019, the notice would need to be given by July 5.

The Vermont Agency of Transportation and Genesee & Wyoming, which owns the tracks used by the Vermonter in Vermont are seeking a $1.6 million grant under the federal Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements grant program that could be used to pay for safety equipment.

This could includes, for example, the installation of rock slide detectors.

“At this point the ball is in Amtrak’s court,” Michele Boomhower, director of policy planning and intermodal development at VTrans, said. “We have no time frame for anything changing, so we’re operating on a business-as-usual framework, awaiting Amtrak’s safety analysis.”

Amtrak Backpedals on Talk of Ending Service on Routes Lacking PTC

March 7, 2018

On second thought never mind. Amtrak has quickly backpedaled on comments made by CEO Richard Anderson that lack of progress on installation of positive train control might result in the carrier ending service to Vermont.

 “Right now we have no plans to cease any service on any route,” Amtrak’s Bill Hollister told Vermont Business Magazine.

Of course the operative words in that statement are “at this time.” Amtrak didn’t say that ending service to Vermont would not occur. Yet it has signaled that it is unlikely.

The Green Mountain State funds trains linking the state with New York City from St. Albans (Vermonter) and Rutland (Ethan Allen Express).

Anderson had suggested the service might end due to lack of progress on installing PTC during a congressional hearing.

The issue is not the tracks in Vermont, which are not required by federal law to have PTC, but on those elsewhere.

Some U.S. railroads are facing a Dec. 31 deadline to install PTC and some are not expected to be able to make that deadline.

The strong adverse reaction of Vermont public officials to Anderson’s congressional remarks caught Amtrak off guard. But Vermont officials in turn were surprised by what Anderson said.

Dan Delabruere, director of Vermont’s Agency of Transportation’s Rail and Aviation Bureau said Anderson’s suggestion that the Vermonter and Ethan Allen Express would be suspended “kind of shocked a lot of people. We did not know this announcement was coming.”

At a recent meeting of the bureau’s advisory board, Bill Hollister, Amtrak’s senior manager of government affairs for state-supported services in the Northeast, tried to mend fences.

“I want to apologize to Vermont for all the angst [the Anderson statement] caused,” he said. Hollister said Amtrak “did not expect [a reaction] that strong.”

Delabruere said Vermont officials have had several conversations with Amtrak since Anderson’s testimony and learned that the passenger carrier is undertaking an analysis of safety risks on its route network and exploring remedies less onerous than the installation of PTC in Vermont and elsewhere, to address perceived safety risks.

“We’ve got to figure something out,” Delabruere said. “We don’t know what that’s going to mean for us. I can’t even speculate.”

In the meantime, Anderson somewhat softened the stance he took earlier. In testimony to a Senate committee on March 1, Anderson said Amtrak is “reevaluating” future service in light of safety concerns.

“We have to determine whether we continue to operate in non-PTC territory, and apply the principles of our safety management system to mitigate” risks on those rail routes,” he said. “We should establish PTC as the standard for passenger rail in America, including dark territory, and including covering the areas that are today excluded by the law.”

In response to a question from Senator Maggie Hassan (D-New Hampshire), Anderson said Amtrak has a research and development project underway “to determine whether we can use technologies from Europe that don’t require as much trackside investment, but that would give us speed restriction and signal location.”

“I’m not sure if Anderson even knew the implications of what he was saying,” said Ira Silverman, who worked in Amtrak management for 20 years. “The reality is, when he announces that he’s shutting these trains down, do you believe there isn’t going to be a political reaction?”

Hollister indicated after the meeting in Vermont that a compromise between the status quo and PTC implementation on all of Vermont’s Amtrak routes seems likely.

“The game plan is to work towards mitigation of risks,” he said, adding that it is an ongoing process in which Amtrak and its state partners will draft and implement plans to improve safety on Amtrak routes.

PTC Issues Could Sideline Vermont Trains

February 27, 2018

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.”