Officials say grants could improve passenger rail service
07/22/09 7:34AM By Ross Sneyd  Download MP3
(Host) Officials say one of the passenger trains serving Vermont should get to New York an hour faster, if New England wins federal grants.
They also want to re-establish passenger rail service between Burlington and New York and begin to restore the rail line that once connected Montreal and Boston.
VPR's Ross Sneyd has more.
(Sneyd) All six New England states are working together to expand the region's passenger rail network.
They're competing for $8 billion in money that the Obama administration has set aside for high-speed and inter-city rail.
(Ide) "We in Vermont need to think about this pool of money as higher speed rail, adding an ‘er' to high."
(Sneyd) Robert Ide is Vermont's rail program manager. The goal here is to speed up the trains. But Ide says no one should expect a bullet train.
(Ide) "The topography of our land makes true high-speed rail in the hundreds of miles per hour virtually impossible. And so what we need to be thinking about in Vermont and how we've couched our applications is based on taking our top track speed from 59 and moving that up into the 70s and 80s."
(Sneyd) Vermont has asked for $126 million to rebuild track beds and replace rail so speed limits can be increased.
That would allow the Vermonter train to take about 30 minutes off the trip between St. Albans and the Massachusetts border.
Repairing track in Massachusetts would eliminate a slight detour the train has to follow now and take another 30 to 45 minutes off the trip to Penn Station in New York.
On the western side of the state, the state wants to rebuild tracks between Rutland and Burlington so the Ethan Allen Express could serve the state's largest city.
Track also would be improved south of Rutland so the train could pass through Bennington county on its way to Penn Station.
In the meantime, New Hampshire is applying for money to pay for rebuilding the old track bed between Concord and White River Junction.
That would re-establish service between Boston and Montreal.
None of these projects is likely to happen unless the New England states win federal stimulus money.
There's $8 billion available from Washington but more than $110 billion in demands from all the states. Still, Ide says, he thinks New England has made a good case.
(Ide) "Clearly there's a mismatch in states' expectations and wants and the ability of the FRA to fund all the projects. We think that we're competing very well."
(Sneyd) New England will learn in mid-November whether it wins that competition. If it does, construction would have to be completed by 2012.
For VPR News, I'm Ross Sneyd