The Western Rail Corridor is becoming a reality.
Mayor David Allaire — who serves on the Governor’s Rail Advisory Council and the board of directors at the Vermont Rail Action Network — said everyone seems to think the line between Rutland and Burlington will be done by the end of next year.
“I’m hopeful,” he said. “The reason I think we’re getting so much closer is the one remaining major project that needs to be done (the tunnels in Middlebury) is well underway.”
A handful of other tasks remain, like crossings and stations, and a delegation from Burlington’s city government visited Rutland this week as they figure out where to park the trains overnight and what the impacts on the surrounding neighborhood will be.
“Construction is anticipated to begin this summer on the improvements that need to be made in the Burlington area,” said Michele Boomhower, director of policy, planning and intermodal development for the Vermont Agency of Transportation. “Work on the station in Vergennes has begun. ... The Middlebury platform has finalized their design efforts.”
Boomhower said the siting issues in Burlington are expected to be resolved next month.
“We’re feeling pretty confident,” she said.
Once the work is done, Amtrak’s Ethan Allen Express will run from New York City to Burlington.
“We still expect just one train a day,” she said. “We have the Vermonter that goes (from St. Albans) to New York City — that’s two trains to New York City a day.”
Meanwhile, the Vermont Rail Action Network is becoming more active. Lee Khan, president of the organization’s board of directors, said they have recently re-hired executive director Christopher Parker and have a number of advocacy activities coming up.
“Our focus really is on getting more people and freight on existing railroads,” she said. “Our goal has always been to get the Ethan Allen to Burlington.”
Like Boomhower, Khan said she doesn’t see more than one Amtrak train a day on the line.
“I’m not sure ridership would support two trains a day so it’s going to be one train for a while,” she said. “It’d be wonderful, but I don’t see it.”
But, she said, there still may be other chances to ride the rails between Rutland and Burlington — just not on Amtrak. Khan said the Vermont Rail Action Network has helped a company called AllEarth Rail buy 12 individually motorized rail cars. Built in the 1950s, the cars are being upgraded with modern safety features.
“While we might not have another train to Burlington, we are definitely getting ready for commuter service on the Western Rail Corridor,” Khan said.