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Vermont Amtrak back for first holiday season since summer return

Published: Nov. 20, 2021 at 3:30 PM EST
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ESSEX JUNCTION, Vt. (WCAX) - After a nearly 18-month hiatus, the Vermonter is back on the tracks this holiday season.

“I’m looking forward to sitting back and having a relaxing journey not driving, not being responsible for that,” said Kelly Barnett of Jericho.

Barnett embarked on her first Amtrak journey Saturday morning to visit her daughter in Philadelphia for Thanksgiving. She bought her ticket around three weeks ago because flying no longer seemed like a good option.

“It was a more reasonable way to travel financially. When we started looking into things it was just too late and prices were crazy,” said Barnett - and her is shared by many on the train Saturday morning.

Some are college students going home for Thanksgiving break, like Emma Tlusei from the University of Vermont.

“It’s cheaper. I already bought the ticket for Christmas. I didn’t want to have to buy two $300 tickets,” said Tlusei.

Taking the Amtrak is second nature for St. Mike’s student Chica Romain as he heads home to New York.

“I’m accustomed to taking the train. Amtrak isn’t too far from what I’m accustomed, too. I’m trying to take my bike with me,” said Romain.

Amtrak officials say Saturday’s Vermonter was sold out — with a little more than 200 people packing the seats.

Amtrak operators on the ground say every year, Amtrak gives out a few extra coach cars to trains during the holiday season that they predict will need the extra space. This year, the Vermonter was given one of these extra coach cars, and operators say this doesn’t happen very often.

Thanksgiving is the first major holiday since the Amtrak’s return to Vermont this past July, and VTrans Amtrak Grants Program Manager Toni Clithero says ridership on the Vermonter is exceeding their expectations, even though it’s lower than previous years.

“We look like we’re pretty much picking up where we left off, but the best estimate with where we are is about 80% of what we did before the shutdown,” said Clithero.

On the other hand, the ridership for the shorter-routed Ethan Allen Express is up 4%.

Clithero says they’ve seen 19,347 riders boarding or departing at a Vermont station between July and September, but the real boom has happened as the holiday season approaches.

“Thanksgiving is the leader of all transportation sectors, and it’s always been strong in Vermont, but like I said, it seems like it happened earlier this year,” said Clithero.

Not all riders were hopping aboard for a Thanksgiving trek. Ethan Hans loves trains, and for his 8th birthday, he is getting the gift of travel from Essex to Montpelier.

“We’ve been looking for a chance to get on the train somehow locally, and this makes the most sense. It’s the closest opportunity,” said Kevin Hans, Ethan’s father.

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