The Vermont Rail Action Network now has a track record of turning out rail supporters, getting media attention and building positive relationships.
1. We Saved The Train and Kept the Ethan Allen Running to Rutland
In early 2009 the Douglas administration, seeking budget savings, targeted the Ethan Allen train, serving Rutland, for discontinuance. VRAN mobilized support from the town, built a broad state-wide coalition and saved the train -- in the process generating momentum for extending it on to Burlington. In a year that saw many painful cuts, this was no small accomplishment.
We did this by organizing a demonstration, turning people out for legislative testimony, launching a petition, getting media attention and working behind the scenes. We worked closely with the Rutland Region Chamber of Commerce.
2. We Built Our Organization and Cause
At the start of 2009 our mailing list was 2,000. We are ending the year with 3,200 supporters. Donations doubled. We have new relationships and alliances in the community. We showed up at meetings and gave speeches. We have new relationships with legislators and new relationships with reporters. More than 50 came
to our first ever annual meeting in Rutland on September 30th 2009 at South Station Restaurant and we gave our Jim Jefford’s rail advocate of the year award to Jeff Munger and Herb Ogden volunteer award to Herb Russell.
We maintain good relationships with the freight railroads, Amtrak and the state rail program. We work with other environmental and business organizations, such as the Conservation Law Foundation, Vermonters for a Clean Environment, Vermont Natural Resources Council, VPIRG, chambers of commerce and regional planning organizations. We work regionally with the New England Rail Coalition and Trainriders/Northeast.
3. We Started Building Local Rail Advocates Groups
We’ve only just begun linking together advocates on the local level to support and promote rail in their town. The Friends of Rutland Rail group held a successful event with artist Peter Huntoon
that brought many people to the train station during Art Hop. Advocates in Bennington have held forums to bring attention to passenger service in that part of the state.
4. Vermont Has Applied for Significant Stimulus Funds for Rail
If the Ethan Allen had been discontinued, Vermont would have been in a compromised position regarding the high-speed rail funding Obama made available in the stimulus funds. Fortunately the state was able to make three applications, covering speed improvements on the Vermonter route, rebuilding the track to extend the Ethan Allen to Burlington and planning for trains to Bennington, Manchester and additional service to Rutland. The Vermont Rail Action Network wrote supporting letters for the state’s applications.
5. Effective Marketing Brought An Increase In Ridership
Amtrak ridership is down nationally (down 8% in October) and down on the out-of-state portions of the two trains serving Vermont. But in Vermont ridership has risen. The obvious cause is an excellent series of TV ads the state and WCAX produced. With concrete results of the effectiveness of marketing the Vermont Rail Action Network is planning on making it’s own contribution to outreach and marketing the train service on a grassroots level.
Inheriting a History of Success
Though Vermont Rail Action Network was formed in 2008, we inherit the history of rail activism in Vermont which goes back to 1972 with the formation of the Vermont Association of Rail Passengers, responsible for prompting the congressional delegation to restore passenger train service to Vermont with the “Montrealer”. That group was folded into Trainriders/Northeast (who we are affiliated with) and thus expanded rail service throughout Northern new England.