Officials Say Rail Improvements Could Cut Travel Time

07/27/10 7:34AM By Susan Keese
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(Host) Reports of high-speed passenger rail service coming to Vermont may be slightly overstated.

But transportation officials say the state's $50 million federal stimulus award for rail improvements coupled with related work in Connecticut and Massachusetts could shave an hour-and-a-half off the trip from St. Albans to New York.

VPR's Susan Keese has more.

(Keese) The three states received a total of $160 million for track improvements along the route of the Vermonter between New York City and Vermont.

The money is part of eight-and-a-half billion dollars set aside in the Economic Recovery Act for regional high-speed rail networks.

But Joe Flynn, the rail director for the Vermont Agency of Transportation, says that in this state, "higher-speed service" might be a more apt term.

Flynn says Amtrak's Acela Express between Boston and New York can go 130 miles per hour.

(Flynn)" That's not going to be the case in the state of Vermont. The topography, the geography, the curvatures in the track, we're told that it would not be really feasible or doable to run at those speeds just because of the lay of the land. "

(Keese) The Vermont project will allow train speeds of up to 79 miles per hour on some 45 miles of track south of White River Junction.

(Flynn) "And the remaining 145 miles within the state of Vermont for the Amtrak Vermonter will be at approximately 59 miles per hour."

(Keese) Flynn says that increase is expected to cut 27 minutes from the trip between the Massachusetts border and St. Albans.

The work in Massachusetts will also help save time. Amtrak passenger trains have had to travel out of their way to avoid deteriorated track north of Springfield, Massachusetts. Flynn says rebuilding that track could save more time for travelers between Penn Station and northern Vermont.

The tri-state project was accepted in January, but officials are still waiting for a final go-ahead from the Federal Railroad Administration to begin. Charles Hunter of Rail America says the agency is swamped.

(Hunter) There's many of these projects all across the U.S. that they're dealing with and they're doing the best that they can.

(Keese) Rail America owns the track between St. Albans and Palmer, Massachusetts. He says the project will boost not only Amtrak ridership-which has increased steadily during the recession. He says increases in weight limits and speeds will encourage more freight business on the line.

Vermont applied to the federal government for three rail projects and won grants for two.  A one million dollar project shared with New York will study prospects for providing service between Bennington and Albany.

A request for $70 million to improve the state's western corridor was not granted, but officials say they hope to reapply for that.

For VPR News, I'm Susan Keese.

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