"This really is an economic development-- not just opportunity, but necessity-- for the entire Rutland region. And I'm frankly delighted," Rutland City Mayor Christopher Louras said.
Louras says the lack of transportation options along Vermont's western side has significant negative impacts on the city. But that all could change; the U.S. Department of Transportation awarded the state $8.9 million to fix up the railroads in the Western Corridor.
"For cargo, for passenger rail, for our climate change footprint, for jobs, for economic opportunity-- mostly for the Western side of the state," said Gov. Peter Shumlin, D-Vermont. "This is a huge deal for the state of Vermont."
Of nearly 600 applicants, Vermont's bid was one of just a few dozen chosen for the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER grant program. The grant will fix up 20 miles of rail line, from Rutland to Leicester. The improvements are designed to move freight for now, but could eventually help transport people on high speed from Bennington to Burlington.
Joseph Szabo, of the Federal Railroad Administration, said, "In terms of service improvements for the freight railroad, this means no more slow orders, no more speed restrictions of 10 miles an hour and freight that is going to be move, now, at 40 miles an hour."
Mayor Louras says these upgrades will allow more freight traffic, which means more business for the Rutland area. And more trains mean fewer tractor-trailers on the road.
"And the fact of the matter is that improving our rail system moves us in a very substantial way forward in getting trucks off the road, cutting back on congestion and cutting back on greenhouse gas emissions," said Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont.
Construction is expected to be complete within two years. Governor Shumlin says he will continue to push until the rail line from Bennington to Burlington is up to modern standards.
Lawmakers say they hope the Ethan Allen Express will one day run from Burlington to Bennington. A start date for the improvements has not been set.
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