Amtrak ridership up in Vt.
By Bruce Edwards
Staff Writer | October 30,2005
The Amtrak bus connection between St. Albans and Montreal will end today, a victim of a too few passengers, but the number of train passengers is increasing.
Vermont Transit will discontinue the connecting bus service for Amtrak's Vermonter following a six-month run that proved to be a money losing route, according to Vermont Transit General Manager Chris Andreasson.
"We just never had enough passengers to pay for the cost of the trip," Andreasson said.
Following a three-year absence, Vermont Transit re-established the bus link in April hoping to build ridership but that never happened, prompting the bus company to end the roundtrip St. Albans-to- Montreal service.
Train ridership on both the Vermonter and the New York-to-Rutland Ethan Allen Express are up so far for the fiscal year that began July 1, according to Charlie Miller, operations rail program manager with the Vermont Agency of Transportation.
"The performance especially over the past three months has been very good," Miller said. "Our ridership on the Vermonter shows over 16,000 versus 14,500 last year, roughly."
For the Ethan Allen Express, a total of 11,700 passengers took the train from July through September compared to 10,500 last year.
"So we're having some pretty significant increases in the current fiscal year," Miller said, referring to both routes.
While ridership on the Washington-to-St. Albans Vermonter is up this fiscal year, passenger numbers declined for the last fiscal year that ended June 30. Part of that loss was due to the lack of connecting bus service to Montreal for most of the fiscal year, resulting in a decrease of 3,600 to 3,800 riders, Miller said.
However, he also said the drop in passengers went beyond the lack of a bus link to Montreal and that "our performance was relatively weak."
The Vermonter carried 54,700 passengers in fiscal 2005 compared to 61,400 during the previous year, Miller said. That's a drop of more than 11 percent.
By contrast, he said ridership on the Ethan Allen was up 1,000 passengers last fiscal year to about 40,000 travelers.
Miller said ridership is not only up on both Vermont trains this fiscal year but is on the upswing on other Amtrak routes around the country.
"So that indicates to me that, due to the higher fuel prices, people are looking to alternative methods of transportation," he said.
Miller said replacing the St-Albans-Montreal bus connection with a charter bus service would be difficult because of issues related to crossing the border into Canada and back, which is not the case with Vermont Transit.
Vermont will pay Amtrak a total of $2.65 million this fiscal year to subsidize both Amtrak routes, an increase of $150,000 over last year.
But Miller said none of that money went to subsidize the St. Albans-to-Montreal bus connection. He said the state had no money available, especially given the current budget situation, to pay Vermont Transit.
Andreasson of Vermont Transit said the Amtrak bus link to Montreal averaged only seven to eight passengers in each direction — about half the number of passengers needed for the route to break even.
The Montrealer, the predecessor of the Vermonter, made the entire run through to Montreal. However, Miller said Canadian labor agreements, the cost of using Canadian National tracks, and access to the station in Montreal are obstacles to restoring through service.
Contact Bruce Edwards at email@example.com.