The following is a guide to what you can see out the window of Amtrak train's in Vermont. It is organized by station, first Vermonter stations and then stations of the Ethan Allen. Click on any of the links if you fancy more information (I put a lot of effort into them and there is a lot of interesting stuff there).
South of Brattleboro, the train enters Vermont just after slowly passing over the Connecticut river, half an hour after Amherst. This is a very scenic view with the now closed Schell Iron bridge between Northfield and East Northfield just upriver (righthand side going north). In Vernon, the train passes Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant on the right and and the picturesque Miller farm, immediately across the tracks which was the birthplace of the Seventh Day Adventist religion (followers were originally called “Millerites”). As the train slows down, entering Brattleboro it passes pretty ponds on the left (going north) which are popular for ice fishing in the winter.
Brattleboro’s lively downtown begins at the train station and known for its art galleries. Gallery walk, held on fourth Friday’s (beginning just after the southbound train passes) features about forty venues – not just visual arts, but music, theater, performances, circus and a block party feel that seems to bring the entire town out. Most exhibits are up throughout the month. The train schedule provides for a natural day trip from northern points, affording an afternoon of looking at art, eating at local restaurants and enjoying the town. Brattleboro has been ranked one of America’s top ten small towns by several different venues.
The train hugs the pretty Connecticut River (on the right, heading north) all the way from Brattleboro to Bellows Falls.
Coming into town, the train slows for a tunnel built under downtown. Completed in 1851 and enlarged several times since, the tunnel has its own wikipedia entry. The most recent enlargement in 2007 allows for double stacked international containers and tall automobile rack cars to pass and is the cause of the short but intense 4% grade which is quite notable when looking town the length of the train at adjoining cars.
The Bellows Falls canal is crossed by the tracks right after the tunnel. Originally surveyed by George Washington, the canal, built in 1791-1802 was one of the first canals in the United States, predating the Erie Canal.
The canal’s waterpower brought industrialization. At one time Bellows Falls produced more paper than anywhere else in the United States using pulp logs floated down the river. International Paper started here until mills were closed in 1921 to avoid settling a strike. The Vermont Farm Machine company made cream separators and butter churns until the depression. The town never recovered, although a modest revival has been underway recently. Although many mill buildings are gone, many remain (some visible on the right side of the train, going north) providing a rare piece of untouched industrial archeology.
At Bellows Falls the tracks of the New England Central Railroad, used by the Vermonter, cross the tracks of the Green Mountain Railroad at a “diamond” (the shape made by the rails as they cross). The station, built in 1922 after the previous one burned and used by both railroad lines, is essentially a standard plan rectangle with polygons added to fit its unusual sitting. Excursion trains of the Green Mountain Railroad also depart from this station, offering a tour of the Vermont countryside to Chester. The railroad yard to the right of the train hold cars waiting to be repaired at the Green Mountain railroad car shop across the river.
The Great Falls which necessitated the canal are visible to the right of the train on leaving the station. To the left is the Bellows Falls dam, built in 1927. Native American Abenaki knew the falls as prime fishing as spawning Shad and Salmon were held back by the falls. Inhabitants before the Abenaki left petrogylphs thought to be 2,000 years old in the rocks along the falls.
After crossing the river, the train is in New Hampshire, on the east side of the Connecticut River.
Built in 1920, this station stands at the junction of the small Claremont & Concord Railroad (to the right of the train, going north) and the mainline used by the Vermonter. The station is now used as a bike shop.
The shops of the Claremont & Concord are an undistinguished beige. A metal building replaced the original wood building after a fire in the 1980’s. Inside, however, is a quite distinguished trainset – the original pioneering 1935 streamlined “Flying Yankee,” now under restoration. One of the first diesel powered passenger trains, it was built for Boston – Portland service and later made a round trip through Claremont and Bellows Falls on a White River Junction – Keene NH – Boston schedule.
Like Bellows Falls, Claremont was a prosperous industrial town in the early twentieth century. While some manufacturing remains, Claremont also suffers the economic and social problems that are part of the life cycle of New England towns with shuttered mills. Monadnock Mills once made linens for the titanic but ceased operations in the depression leaving mill buildings vacant for 50 years. Sullivan Manufacturing, later Joy manufacturing moved operations out to Claremont Junction but have not been in business for a generation.
The train crosses back into Vermont (heading north) just south of Windsor and ten minutes north of Claremont. Don’t miss this view! To the right (going north) is Vermont’s longest covered bridge, over the Connecticut River.
The classic Windsor train station was built in 1901. Barre granite from Vermont was used for window sills and other trim. Reflecting Victorian sensibilities, the station was built with separate waiting rooms for men and women.
Windsor is another mill town that has seen better days but is taking steps towards the future. Across the tracks a former foundry building is now used by a fledgling nano-tech firm. The remains of a recently torn down former Goodyear factory lie just to the south.
Before the railroad and the industrial age, Windsor was the first capital of Vermont after settlers granted land rights by New Hampshire in the area objected to being designated as part of New York (with associated higher taxes and costs). Vermont declared independence, one of only three states to have previously existed as its own country (Hawaii and Texas are the others). At a tavern in town which still stands, the Republic’s constitution was signed in 1777.
Keep an eye out on the left (going north) for another covered bridge 15-20 minutes after Windsor at North Hartland.
This is the junction of the White River and the Connecticut River which the train has followed since Hartford CT. It is also a historic railroad junction. Our train swings around to the left (going north) while to the right continue the tracks of the Washington County Railroad which serve freight customers to Newport, VT. Other tracks swing across the river to Lebanon NH, once providing a link onward to Manchester NH and Boston. Railroad yards to the south and north of the station support a number of freight trains which come on duty here to serve local businesses.
The station, built in 1937 and echoing Philadelphia’s Independence Hall, was designed by Jens Frederick Larson, architect of many collegiate buildings. The north end – now occupied by the Welcome Center and offices – was formerly the baggage and express wing. The station’s signature cupola crowning weathervane is a reproduction.
To the left (going north) of the train is downtown and the Hotel Coolidge, a fine and well preserved example of an old railroad hotel from another era. A tunnel once led from the station to the Post Office and hotel. Next door is the Briggs Opera House, home of Northern Stage.
The Green Mountain Railroad runs excursion trains from the station using an original 1951 Rutland Railroad RS1 ALCO locomotive and passenger cars from the 1930’s.
Twenty minutes north of White River Junction (following the White River all the way) is the pretty little town of South Royalton, home of the small progressive Vermont Law School.
Randolph is the geographic center of Vermont. The wide streets downtown were a provision for an early plan to locate the state capital here.
The station was built in the 1870’s in what was then known as West Randolph. With the arrival of the railroad the commercial center of the town shifted here from Center Randolph to the east.
Just past Randolph the tracks which had been following the White River from White River Junction now follow beside the Dog River. The tracks climb to the summit over the Green Mountains at Roxbury, then drop 280 feet in seven miles. This summit is the divide where waters to the east drain towards the Connecticut River and ultimately Long Island Sound and waters to the west go to Lake Champlain and the Gulf of St. Lawrence. At 1008 feet, this summit is the highest point on the Vermonter, 670 feet higher than White River Junction.
When the railroad was built in 1843 a shorter, lower-elevation route had been identified that ran through important Barre and Montpelier. However the President and significant investors of the Vermont Central Railroad at that time were from Northfield and wanted to make sure their town was on the mainline.
The train passes maple sugar houses and dairy farms in this stretch. In late winter when days become warm and nights remain cold the sap runs and is collected. It takes 40 gallons of sap to become 1 gallon of maple syrup. Sugar shacks were built away from houses and barns because the fires to evaporate the sap would occasionally consume the buildings themselves.
Until 1963, Vermont had more cows than people. Vermont dairy farming was made possible by the railroad which transported milk to cities under ice. Dairy farming remains ten percent of the Vermont economy but the number of farms has declined significantly
Before arriving in Montpelier we pass Northfield, (not a stop) home of Norwich Military College. When the railroad was built, it became the headquarters, propelling growth that made the town the third largest in the state by 1860. The 1852 station building (on the right, heading north) is the oldest station building in Vermont and is now a bank. On the left were the early shop facilities of the railroad which later became a large granite finishing operation, gone now for several generations.
Montpelier Junction, where the train stops, is one mile out of town, actually in the town of Berlin. The station dates from the 1930’s. A bike path links the station and the downtown, as do tracks operated by the Washington County Railroad for freight customers including the granite industry in Barre (look for gondolas of stone in the yard coming into town amid the propane tank cars).
Montpelier is one of the smallest state capitals in the United States. The state house backs up upon woods. The Vermont legislature is only part-time, meeting four days a week from January through April. Members typically have other jobs.
The state government of Vermont provides the funding for operation of the Vermonter.
Recently restored (completed in 2006) Waterbury station was built in 1875 and is the centerpiece of the village square.
Waterbury is home for the Green Mountain Coffee Company, which operates a coffeeshop and factory outlet in the restored train station. A former mental hospital turned state office complex flooded during Irene in 2011 but will be rebuilt. Spread out along the tracks in an earlier time were woolan mills, a foundary a clothpin factory a lumber yard, a creamery and canning factories, all now gone. Before dairy farming was dominant in Vermont, sheep were the largest farming activity.
Waterbury is the gateway to ski areas in Stowe (10 miles north), Mad River Valley and Jay Peak. Before the interstate the railroad would run solid sleeper trains from the City to Waterbury and park them on sidings near the station. Amtrak’s Montrealer continued this trade until the overnight schedule was changed to a daytime run in 1995.
Waterbury is also known as the home of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, although most of it is not made the small factory for tourists near the interstate, but at a large red and white facility next to the railroad tracks on the south side of Saint Albans.
Before Irene, the flood of 1927 was the greatest natural disaster in Vermont history and this area was struck hard. Nine inches of rain in 36 hours added to already swollen rivers coming out of the Mountains. Over the doorway of the Waterbury station a horizontal strip of wood indicates the level floodwaters reached. The railroad lost 54 bridges and 253 miles of track, bankrupting it and leading to its sale to the Canadian National railroad which owned it until 1995.
After leaving Waterbury, the train stays in the Winooski River Valley. The Long Trail which extends 270 miles from Massachusetts to Canada crosses the tracks at Jonesville. Built by the Green Mountain Club between 1910 and 1930, it is the oldest long distance hiking trail in the United States and is the inspiration for the Appalachian Trail.
Camel’s Hump (4,083 feet above sea level) is visible on the train’s right hand side (going north).
When the railroad was built in 1849, the mainline bypassed Burlington and a 7 mile branch was built which connected here. An earlier four track station in which the tracks passed through the building had to be torn down in 1958 as freight cars became larger. The current facility reflects all the architectural charm of the era. A much larger Union Station was built in downtown Burlington and remains today, restored and redeveloped by Main Street Landing.
Ferry service operates during the summer between downtown Burlington at Union Station and Port Kent NY, across Lake Champlain and connects with Amtrak’s Adirondack train from Montreal to Albany and New York.
North of Essex Junction the train enters an area heavy with dairy farms and sugar maple. Fifteen minutes past Essex Junction the train crosses the Lamoille River on Georgia High Bridge.
The previous Saint Albans station, located just south of the former yard office building that Amtrak now occupies, still houses the offices of the New England Central Railroad. Built and maintained as the railroad headquarters from 1866, the ornate structure reflects its importance and is on the historic register. Until 1963 a train shed covered the tracks, but as freight cars became bigger it had to be torn down.
Saint Albans developed as a railroad town. The shops and headquarters of the Vermont Central were moved from Norfield from 1861 to 1863. The large “Italy Yard” north of town classifies freight moving to and from Canada. A roundhouse located north and within sight of the station maintains and rebuilds freight locomotives and services the Amtrak train as needed. A large freight car repair shop complex was spread out across the tracks from the station, but was moved north into the railroad yards in the late sixties. The present shopping mall and plastic injection factory occupy former railroad shop buildings.
Saint Albans also developed as an agricultural center and remains the home of the Saint Albans Coop Creamery, which supplies milk to Ben & Jerry’s located south of town. Large feed mills once stood across the street from the old station, but moved north adjacent to the railroad yard 50 years ago.
The railroad tracks continue north through Swanton to Montreal and are used daily for freight. It is hoped the train can continue to Montreal once operating and customs arrangements have been finalized, probably by 2017.
The annual Vermont Sugar Maple Festival occurs in early April as sugar season concludes, featuring parades, fiddling contests and lots of maple syrup! During 1983’s festival, Ben and Jerry’s built the world’s largest ice cream Sunday. The previous year a 47 foot snowman was built in order to enter the record book.
Saint Albans is also known for the northernmost battle of the civil war when some raiders attacked the banks.\
Ethan Allen Route:
Rutland was once a railroad town; the headquarters, shop and center of the Rutland Railroad. The railroad shut down following a strike in 1961 and the railroad station, yard and shops were sold to become the shopping mall that is adjacent to the current station. The state purchased the tracks in order to ensure their continued economic contribution to Vermont and leased operations to Vermont Rail System.
The current station was built in 1999. Designed by local firm, NBF architects, it echoes the previous larger station in its design. It is named for former Senator Jim Jeffords who helped secure the Federal Transit Agency that enabled its construction. Jeffords was a longtime champion of rail.
It is planned that former Rutland railroad passenger cars will be moved adjacent to this station. These wooden passenger cars have been operating in Vermont for more than 100 years.
Rutland is the gateway to Killington and Okemo ski areas; both can be reached by connecting van or bus.
Marble has been a primary economic engine for the local economy. The train passes a large cutting shed formerly of the Vermont Marble Co in West Rutland before arriving in town. Stone cutting is continued here by local artisans. Large marble works were located in Proctor, north of Rutland and many marble quarries were and still are located between Danby to the south of Rutland to Middlebury in the north. Omya operates a plant in proctor that processes marble into calcium carbonate for paper, toothpaste, paint pigment and a host of other uses. Their tank cars and hopper cars are often seen in town.
At Whitehall, New York (not a stop), the Ethan Allen turns east and enters Vermont. After traveling north on the Canadian Pacific Railway (formerly the Delaware & Hudson Railroad), the train switches at Whitehall to the Clarendon & Pittsford Railroad, part of the Vermont Rail System.
Castleton is the home of Castleton State College, located walking distance from the train station. Nearby Green Mountain College is in Poultney, further south.
The cute little station, built in 1850 is one of the oldest in the Amtrak system.
The station was beautifully renovated and is owned by Mary Ann Jaubowski. Amtrak began stopping here in 2010 with a grand opening attended by the governor.
The station once marked the junction of a branch line that traveled south to Poultney and Salem NY, primarily serving the slate industry that flourished in the area until the decline of slate roofing. At one time more than 100 slate quarries were active. The rail line is now the Delaware & Hudson rail trail.
Lake Boomoseen, a few miles west of Castleton, has drawn visitors and artists since the railroad arrived and enabled it’s status as a summer resort.
Castleton provides a convenient stop for passengers from Middlebury and beyond, alleviating the need to go into downtown Rutland.
The following Amtrak improvements in Vermont are under discussion but take money and your political support.
44% of greenhouse gasses in Vermont are produced by transportation (nationally, it's 28%). If we are serious about the environment we have to change transportation.
Shipping by rail instead of truck reduces pollution (on average) by two-thirds, noise by one half, uses only 29% of the fuel and produces only 23% as much greenhouse gasses. Freight Rail Carbon Calculator
The U.S. transportation system is 96% petroleum dependent, accounts for 71% of the country’s oil use, and consumes 25% of the world’s net output.
Passenger trains are 20-40% more efficient. But consider: if the train is already going there, the carbon footprint of you riding it is *zero* !
Rail facilitates better land use, which may make the biggest difference.