MANCHESTER - Passenger train service coming to southern Vermont seems like it would be an expensive endeavor, but according to some people the benefits greatly outweigh what the cost would be.

The Vermont Agency of Transportation and the New York State Department of Transportation, in cooperation with the Federal Railroad Administration, have been conducting a New York - Vermont Bi-state intercity passenger rail study to identify opportunities to provide access to passenger rail service to parts of southwestern Vermont, including Manchester.

Costa Pappis, from the Vermont Agency of Transportation, said that they are still working on the process of preparing cost estimates of the project.

"We are currently in the process of preparing cost estimates based on preliminary engineering," he said during a recent telephone interview. "Both the remaining alternatives have the same capital costs."

The two alternatives to bring rail service to southern Vermont both include bringing train service into and through Manchester.

Alternative one would expand service to southwest Vermont by adding a train to run between Albany and Rutland. It would include stops in Bennington, Manchester and Rutland and would operate one round trip per day.

Alternative two proposes rerouting the existing Ethan Allen service through southwest Vermont. It would operate between Rutland and Albany with stops that include Bennington and Manchester. In this alternative the existing Adirondack service would continue as it is and the rerouted Ethan Allen service would make one round trip per day.

"Our consultant has submitted the preliminary engineering documents," said Pappis. "After they make a few technical revisions, we will forward these to the railroads for their review. This process should be completed towards the end of spring."

The capital cost of the project is estimated at $118 million. However, after the revisions to the preliminary engineering documents have been made there will be much more refined cost estimates, said Pappis.

The purpose of this screening process is to identify the preferred alternative. The initial set of proposed alternative was narrowed down from six to the two that are left, plus a no-build alternative.

The analysis of these alternatives include ridership, capital costs, and operations costs among others.

Restoring passenger rail service to Manchester, which ended more than a half-century ago, would be an asset for the community, said Manchester Select Board Chairman Ivan Beattie.

"One thing that this area has been missing compared to other towns in the State is some form of public transportation," Beattie said. "We don't have buses here anymore. We don't have an interstate that runs through and train service is something that people tend to enjoy traveling on."

Pappis said that the ridership number was estimated at 8,800 riders yearly by a consultant of the project who takes in factors such as the area and population of a town, as well as comparing other towns that are similar the Manchester with the area in order to find estimated riders numbers. He also said that the price per tickets are currently unknown at this time and are hard to figure out with so many factors such as travel time and distance.

The project study area covers Rutland and Bennington Counties in southwestern Vermont and adjacent areas in eastern central New York, including Schenectady, Saratoga, Washington, Rensselaer, and Albany Counties. In order to minimize environmental impacts, the study will focus on opportunities for providing intercity passenger rail service along existing established rail corridors.

According to the website, the purpose of this project is to identify and establish an efficient, intercity passenger rail-based transportation link that will benefit unserved and under-served communities in southwestern Vermont and eastern central New York. The project would also provide a key link along Vermont's "Western Corridor," with improved connections to passenger rail services in New York and beyond via Albany and Schenectady, N.Y. For more information on the study, visit www.ny-vt-passengerrail.org.