The Western Corridor route from Bennington to Rutland, through Middlebury to Burlington was the focus. “If we can do what we did on the New England Central, there is no reason why we can’t get it done here,” said Brad Worthen, Vice Chair of the Vermont Rail Action Network.
The state’s commitment to have the Ethan Allen in Burlington by 2017 with its own resources was reiterated by Vermont Agency of Transportation’s Chris Cole, Director of Policy, Planning and Intermodal.
“Everyone in this room knows that extending to Burlington is a no-brainer,” Cole said. “You have the state’s largest concentration of population — 150,000 in the Chittenden County area. That’s a quarter of the state’s population that isn’t directly served by rail.”
Cole highlighted the goals contained in the Shumlin Administration’s recent energy plan calling for quadrupling passenger rail ridership in Vermont to 400,000 by 2030; and doubling the amount of freight tonnage transported in-state from 2011 levels by 2030.
The Vermont Rail System, operator of freight service on the Western Corridor is ready: “We support Amtrak and we will do everything we can to help get it to Burlington,” President David Wulfson said at the meeting, noting that an important need for freight is bridge work to allow weight limits to be raised to the national 286,000 lb limit. Investment in the tracks benefits both freight and passengers.
The importance of the Western Corridor was spoken to by Tom Donahue, Tom Torti, Presidents of the Rutland Region and Lake Champlain Region Chambers of Commerce and Sarah Simonds, from the Vermont Community Foundation and Convener of the Transportation Stakeholders Group. The average overnight visitor to Vermont spends in excess of $200 a night and Vermont restaurants and stores 2 to 3 times more sensitive to tourist dollars than other states – which means sustainable rail links to large cities are important.
The meeting was held at Middlebury College and co-sponsored by their Franklin Environmental Center at Hillcrest, the hub of environmental and sustainability education at Middlebury College. We are grateful for their having us. Director Jack Byrne noted Middlebury College has a goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2016 which will require changing transportation habits. “I know a lot of (faculty and students) would prefer to take the train,” Byrne said. “I think that’s where we have a lot of common interests.”
Many people helped make the meeting a success and we are grateful for all the work. In particular Charlie Moore, Pete Synder, Sarah Simonds and Tim Moore who helped set up and Irene Barna and Sarah Simonds who registered everybody. Thank you!