At Issue: Rail Travel's Future in Vermont - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

At Issue: Rail Travel's Future in Vermont

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The state is getting ready to spend millions of dollars upgrading the railroad tracks between Rutland and Burlington with the goal of bringing passenger service to that region. But is rail travel worth the investment in Vermont?

Last year, ridership on Amtrak was up four percent according to federal officials. More than 137,000 riders used the rail service. Of that, about 81,000 took the Vermonter line up the Connecticut River Valley to St. Albans, and 53,000 took the Ethan Allen Express from Rutland to New York.

We sat down with analysts at UVM's Transportation Research Center to figure out what kind of future rail travel has in Vermont.

"I think they have a really positive future in Vermont. I think a lot of their obstacles that the bus transit services don't have are involved with the track infrastructure, which has some problems," says Jim Sullivan, a researcher at the center. "So I think if they could spread their services they would, and they would do okay. But they're limited to where they can spread to because there are track improvements that are needed."

Reporter Cat Viglienzoni: "And would it be the type of thing where if they wanted to be financially sound in Vermont, do they really need to serve up to the Montreal market?"

Sullivan: "Yeah, connecting to Montreal would certainly be a great next step for Amtrak. And I don't know much about what track infrastructure exists between Burlington and Montreal, or Essex and Montreal, where Amtrak currently reaches because sometimes there can be freight track there and maybe the two aren't totally compatible. So just because we see that there is a rail line doesn't mean that it's of the quality that Amtrak needs."

Reporter: "Is that something that if we're going to invest in the future, Vermont kind-of needs to say it needs to be high-speed rail, if we're going to make it something that people want to take?"

Sullivan: "Yeah, if we're going to update the tracks at all, why don't we go the extra mile and upgrade them so that they could handle high speed rail. that's certainly a question that we have to contend with. But again, it's based on whether we think we can have the kind of ridership to pay for those upgrades over the course of the years of that service."

Sullivan also says he doesn't think rail travel is antiquated at this point. He said he thinks high speed rail is especially not because of some of the troubles that air travel is beginning to face. But he did acknowledge that making high-speed rail travel a reality requires a big investment that we haven't made yet.

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