BARRE — Amtrak service will return on July 19 if all goes according to plan, the state announced Thursday.
Rail and Aviation Bureau director at the Agency of Transportation, Dan Delabruere, said Amtrak needed at least 90 days notice before it could return service to Vermont, which ended on March 26, 2020, when Gov. Phil Scott entered Vermont into a state of emergency in order to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
“There’s a lot of moving parts as far as bringing crews back on, getting all the rolling stock back in place where it needs to be, making sure all the crews are re-qualified to run each route, so we think it’s a good date,” said Delabruere “It could move a day or two if things change, but it’s certainly far enough out where we’ll have time to make another announcement if it changes.”
Scott has announced a phased reopening plan for Vermont, which is based on vaccination rates. According to the state, if the current rate of vaccinations continues, between 60% and 70% of Vermonters will be vaccinated by early June.
“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,” stated Joe Flynn, transportation secretary, in a release Thursday. “With the governor’s announcement this week of the Vermont Forward Plan to reopen 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 in July.”
Amtrak in neighboring states is still running, though schedules were reduced during the pandemic, said Delabruere.
It’s expected that the state of the pandemic will have changed by July, he said, so it’s not clear what Amtrak will have in place as far as masks and distancing rules.
Amtrak was told this on Thursday, Delabruere said, meaning it’s likely the rail service will soon be taking online bookings for the Vermont lines.
In Vermont, Amtrak has The Vermonter and the Ethan Allen Express. The Vermonter normally runs down to Washington, D.C., with stops in Connecticut and Massachusetts. Its Vermont stops include Bellows Falls, Windsor, White River Junction, Randolph, Montpelier, Waterbury, Essex Junction and St. Albans. The Ethan Allen Express runs to New York City and has stops in Castleton and Rutland. The AOT is working on having the Ethan Allen run to Burlington in 2022, with stops in Middlebury and Vergennes.
Rutland County Senator Cheryl Hooker said Thursday that she’s happy to hear about, “anything that fosters transportation and bringing people to the area. I know places rely on it, certainly the tourist industry can rely on it. I think it’s great that it’s opening up, and I want to go from Rutland to Burlington on a train.”
Lyle Jepson, executive director of the Chamber and Economic Development of the Rutland Region (CEDRR), said the announcement is good news.
“I think any time that we offer an additional way for people to travel to see us, that’s a positive,” he said.
Jepson doesn’t believe the service returning in the middle of July will leave the state losing out on visitors.
“I think just having a date is exciting enough,” he said. “I’m not sure there will be significant travel that will be gained or lost over a month or two. I think what it does is, it inspires hope that we’re going back to a level of normalcy that reflects where we want to be.”
Dan Groberg, executive director of Montpelier Alive, has similar views.
“Any opportunity to bring more visitors to Montpelier is a good thing,” he said. “The downtown businesses have been really suffering over the last year with the pandemic, and it’s always been the case that it’s hard for them to survive on local traffic alone, so bringing more tourists back to the area is a welcome change.”