Faced with a reduction in gas tax receipts because people are driving less, the Vermont Agency of Transportation is trying to close their budget shortfall by cutting state supported Amtrak service to Rutland, even ridership grew 17% last year (ridership has been growing for 39 months straight).
The VTrans proposal is to substitute a bus. We support bus transit, and bus connections to trains. But a bus is not a train. A bus is not a travel mode of choice. Previous Vermont Transit bus service in the region was eliminated for lack of ridership.
The train is an economic asset, which in a downturn it is not smart to eliminate.
The train (unlike a bus) drives economic development: people make decisions on building, moving, and employment because of the presence of train service.
The Rutland region relies heavily on tourism. Last year there were nearly 20,000 riders on the Ethan Allen and each tourist spends on average $177 a day. Millions and millions of New Yorkers don’t drive – but still vacation in Vermont, thanks to rail service.
This cut threatens the mobility of all Vermont. Ending rail service to the western part of the state lowers political support for the rail network as a whole (jeopardizing the Vermonter).
The long-term plan for the Ethan Allen was to extend it to Burlington -- but if Vermont stops the train, it will be difficult to get it back. Amtrak will reallocate equipment; we’ll need to spend tens of millions on new cars and to repair deteriorated roadbed that will no longer be maintained to passenger train standards.
Strengthening Vermont's Rail System offers more financial benefits than this cut.
Extending the Ethan Allen to the larger population center of would bring an exponential rise in ridership with only a marginal increase in costs. Better marketing of the rail could increase revenues and ridership even more.
Amtrak fees provide much needed funds for track maintenance and bring federal dollars for upgrades - which we might have to give back if we ended train service
By Christopher Parker, Vermont Rail Action Network Executive Director