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Charlie Hunter, “Bellows Falls, Vt., Depot, May 2018”: Oil on muslin panel, 10 in. {x} 12 in. “Monet had his haystacks. I have the Bellows Falls train station. I’ve done easily a dozen paintings of it. It is pretty much my favorite spot to paint, though I do wish that one could set up a little farther out, basically in the middle of the train tracks, in order to get a slightly better view of the three-target signal, but it is likely that the railroaders would object. Or not object at all and just go about their business and wonder, at the end of the day, just how an easel came to be mashed into the front of the switch engine.”

Voices / Viewpoint

Our train station is literally a gateway to the town

The modest investment townspeople are being asked to approve will make this historic building shine again

Charlie Hunter is an artist and music manager who “paint[s] beautifully that which is not traditionally considered beautiful.”

Bellows Falls

Pretty much everybody in Rockingham and Bellows Falls agrees that having to tear down historic buildings is a very sad thing, and that the time to act is early enough, before they are prohibitively expensive to save. Robertson Paper, the Stables by the Waypoint Center, the Methodist Church/Grange/YMCA.... all have been lost in the last few years.

The Bellows Falls train station, constructed 100 years ago in 1922, is in need of extensive repair. Fortunately, the recently passed infrastructure bill contains specific pots of money for renovating small-town stations served by Amtrak.

The Town of Rockingham is proposing to purchase the station and oversee the renovations. For that to happen, citizens are being asked to approve a $75,000 appropriation and a $50,000 bond (collateral for USDA loan payments).

It is reasonable to ask why the town needs to be involved. Why doesn’t Vermont Rail System (the current owner), or a local nonprofit step forward to claim the funds and oversee the renovations?

The answer is simple: private industry and small non-profits are not eligible for these grants; the owner has to be a municipality or similar organization in order to unlock the money to do the renovations.

Amtrak will also be bringing the station into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Work will include a new platform to replace the current crumbling asphalt; it will be 8 inches higher than the current one to ease boarding, and it will not interfere with freight operations.

The idea is to renovate the station in a way that provides for Amtrak use plus also allowing for commercial development. The income from those two sources should cover operating and maintenance expenses.

The Selectboard is proposing two articles (one for the train station; the other, a new dump truck). If both pass, the tax rate will remain the same as in fiscal year 2022 — a very responsible and prudent budget indeed.

* * *

Rockingham has a proud heritage tied to its railroads, and our train station is literally a gateway to the town. The modest investment townspeople are being asked to approve will unlock many times that amount in federal funding and will make our train station shine again.

Many in the region remember the depot lunch room. That whole wing of the station has been closed since the early 1970s. Imagine a brew pub (or something similar) in that space! Imagine welcoming visitors and returning residents alike with a depot that honors our past, and celebrates our future.

All aboard for fiscally prudent, financially responsible progress!

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Originally published in The Commons issue #646 (Wednesday, January 12, 2022). This story appeared on page B2.

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