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State May Cut Amtrak Service

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White River Junction, Vermont - December 5, 2008

11 a.m. in White River Junction: like clockwork the Vermonter is pulling into the depot, something Vermonters have come to rely on.

"I take the train about once every 3 weeks," Joshua Thompson said. "I'm from Georgia originally so I don't have a car that does well in the snow so I can't drive to New York City. The train is it for me."

Thompson is a student at the Vermont Law School and takes the train to New York for his internship.

But that may soon change.

The state may eliminate one of Amtrak's two lines in Vermont-- a measure that could save the state as much as $3.4 million.

While the department is facing a budget deficit, Amtrak business in Vermont is actually on the rise. The Vermonter, which runs from New York City to St. Albans, saw a 17 percent increase in business from October 2007 to 2008.

"This is not something we want to do, but in this tough budget time we're in everything that has to be on the table," said John Zicconi, of the Vt. Transportation Dept.

More than 7,000 people rode the Vermonter in October of 2008-- up from just over 6,000 in 2007. The Amtrak's Ethan Allen saw a similar increase in ridership over the same period-- up 17.5 percent. While not all those passengers ended up in Vermont, the majority did.

Green Mountain Coffee Roasters in Waterbury is one of several businesses that benefit from Amtrak service.

"Definitely hundreds of dollars on a monthly basis," said Hiata DeFeo, of Green Mountain Coffee Roasters. "They're coming in, they're grabbing a cup of coffee, maybe a muffin or a sandwich before getting on the train."

Transportation officials say Amtrak is just one of several cuts being considered. It costs the state nearly $5 million to subsidize the two lines every year.

"There's no federal appropriation for passenger rail, so as we go through our budget exercise, it is a large pool of state money," Zicconi said.

The department may also continue to fund both lines-- but shorten the Vermonter's route. That would bring a sigh of relief to Vermonters at this station-- reluctant to say goodbye to rail service altogether.

Keagan Harsha - WCAX News

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