BRATTLEBORO—Vermonters will have until Sept. 15 to offer comments on the state’s new rail plan.
According to the Vermont Agency of Transportation (AOT), the period for public comment was extended after many requests from Vermonters to review and speak to the plan.
AOT released the new rail plan in June and held two public hearings on in July in Essex Junction and White River Junction.
Topping the plan is extending Amtrak’s Ethan Allen Express to Burlington and the Vermonter to Montreal. Vermont currently pays about $8.1 million a year to subsidize these two trains.
A secondary priority is creating a new Amtrak service from Albany, N.Y., to Burlington, via North Bennington and Manchester. This would provide a second train to Rutland and Burlington.
As for freight service, the state’s top priority would be raising the weight limits on the state’s nearly 600 miles of rail lines to the national 286,000 pound standard, as well as eliminating slow orders and work on sidings, industrial tracks, and yards.
According to AOT planner Costa Pappis, the plan’s recommendations were well received at the public meetings.
“I did not hear any opposition to either the proposed intercity passenger rail system build-out or the freight improvements,” Pappis said in an email to The Commons. “The comments were centered on destination and schedule needs, interest in commuter rail, information about the types of cargo carried on rail lines, and safety.”
But how those new trains and improved trackage will be paid for is uncertain. The 20-year-plan as drafted would cost about $665 million to implement, or about 40 percent higher than the current funding level of about $380 million.
In an email to The Commons, Christopher Parker, executive director of the Vermont Rail Action Network, wrote that “it is important to note that inclusion in the plan does not commit the state to completing these goals, nor does it mean funding is available.”
Parker added that “the value of the plan is the overall big-picture context that helps provide confidence for federal and state authorities that projects seeking funds are a priority and have been considered appropriately.”
Pappis wrote that, as of late last week, he had received 15 comments on the plan.
“After the public comment period ends, we will review the comments received and consider them as we finalize the plan. We anticipate this happening sometime in the fall.”