Panel Outlines Plan For Southwestern Corridor Rail Service

12/10/11 9:30AM By Susan Keese
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(Host) A study group has recommended how passenger rail service could be established between southwestern Vermont and New York's capital region.

The public will have a chance to comment on the proposals at hearings in both states the week of Dec. 12.

VPR's Susan Keese has the story.

(Keese) Passenger rail service between western Vermont and the Albany region has long been a priority.

Freight service exists along Vermont's southwest corridor, and it's crucial to some businesses. But right now track conditions only allow speeds of 15 or 20 miles per hour in some places.

(Pappis) "So the speeds are clearly way too low for passengers rails.

(Keese) Costa Pappis is a rail planner with the Vermont Agency of Transportation.

(Pappis) "The tracks would have to upgraded. The crossings would be upgraded. There would have to be work on different rail stations."

(Keese) A proposal to do that work failed to win acceptance in the competition for federal stimulus grants in 2009. A comparable upgrade for Vermont's eastern rail corridor was accepted and is under way.

The southwestern corridor project instead got a half million dollars, together with New York, to create a plan for service between Albany and Vermont that would be ready for the next round of funding - whenever that might be.

Pappis says that grant was matched by the two states' transportation agencies.  He says the need for improved rail service is also great in parts of New York adjacent to Bennington County.

(Pappis) "So these are planning funds that they have given us with the intent of us developing a project and then submitting it for federal funding."

(Keese) The planning project is funded by the Federal Railroad Administration's High Speed and Intercity Passenger Rail Program.

The program was rolled out as a multibillion dollar project by the Obama administration, but Pappis says the level of funding is determined by Congress year to year.

(Pappis) "For the current year I don't actually think it's being funded, so the funding has varied from nothing to $5 or $6 billion. "

(Keese) Pappis wouldn't comment on the plan's political prospects. But Rex Burke, of the Bennington County Regional Commission, says it makes sense to have a project shovel-ready.

Burke is on the local committee working on the bi-state plan, and he thinks rail infrastructure will be getting more attention.

(Burke) "We need to balance transportation investment. We invested a lot in the interstate system for so long, and we have clogged airports... So I think the option of rail service is going to become increasingly important."

(Keese) The draft report singles out two proposals. The first is a shuttle between Albany and Rutland that goes to Bennington and Manchester and back to Rutland.

The second involves looping shuttles in each state, that would provide continuous service, through Bennington and Manchester on one side, and through Saratoga on the other.

Preliminary cost estimates range as high as $200 million for the improvements.

For VPR News, I'm Susan Keese in Manchester.

(Host) The Bennington Meeting will be held on Tuesday, December 13, at the Bennington Fire Station.







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