Western Corridor Rail Project Moving Forward

12/20/10 7:34AM By Melody Bodette
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Track run through downtown Middlebury.
(Host) State officials are pleased that the rail line between St. Albans and Vernon is getting another $2.7 million dollars in stimulus money.

But they had hoped the money would be awarded to the state's Western Corridor project.

As VPR's Melody Bodette reports, plans are still moving forward on that project to return passenger rail service from Rutland to Burlington.

(Bodette) Vermont's congressional delegation asked U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to redirect federal high-speed rail funds to the western corridor. That was after newly-elected governors in two other states said they won't take the money.

Instead, Vermont got $2.7 million to fully fund work on the Vermonter line.

The delegation called the decision a disappointment. The state's Western corridor rail project was denied funding in two separate rounds of applications to the Federal Railroad Administration.

Vermont Rail Director Joe Flynn says after losing out in the first round, planners made significant changes to the application at the recommendation of national rail officials.

But 90 percent of the funds went to projects in California and Florida. And Flynn says those applications were less complete than Vermont's:

(Flynn) "It's fair to say that it was a politically charged process. It was just prior to an election cycle."

(Bodette) The $74 million Western corridor project would make improvements to the Ethan Allen rail-line from the New York border to Rutland. Then service would be expanded to Burlington, with a stop in Middlebury.

In the last session, the Legislature approved borrowing up to $15 million for the project.

No new rounds of federal funding have been announced, but Flynn says the state is ready to re-apply if the opportunity arises.

(Flynn) "Our position is that we would like them to reconsider the application that they have in hand. Because they haven't really given us anything that we feel is concrete that indicates that our application is flawed."

(Bodette) The application called for a temporary station in Middlebury. So Middlebury officials want to be prepared if money is found for the western train.

The town has applied for a small planning grant to decide where a passenger station would be located.

Town Manager Bill Finger says they're already working with VTrans on a plan to replace two aging bridges over the railroad tracks downtown so it makes sense to take a look at the issue now:

(Finger) "There's a need for a station, obviously, if Amtrak does come, and the idea is that if we have all this other rail related stuff going on that we should be as prepared if we can be and to know where we'd like to have the station located and what form it might take."

(Bodette) Rail Director Joe Flynn says work on the western corridor will go forward with or without stimulus money.

Transportation officials also will discuss using $20 million that remain in an earmark that former Senator Jim Jeffords obtained for the project.

For VPR News, I'm Melody Bodette.

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