Rail boosters hope for progress soon

MANCHESTER - The Vermont Agency of Transportation and the New York State Department of Transportation, in cooperation with the Federal Railroad Administration, are 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.

The project area includes the Vermont railway, Rutland to Bennington, which goes through Manchester.

Public meetings throughout Vermont and New York have been held to receive comments and recommendations on the project and to get the information on the study out to the public.

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, according the Vermont Department of Transportation's Web site.

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/or Schenectady, NY.

"Ideally, I think it would be great if train service in the United States was as widespread, convenient, and as efficient as it is in Europe," said Rep. Jeff Wilson, D-Manchester. "Anything we can do to reduce automobile-based transportation would be a good thing. However, the big question is - where will the money come from to pay for expanded rail service?"

Wilson also helps manage two short-line railroads and a commuter line in the Nashville, Tenn. area.

According the December 12 meeting notes, Vtrans will present a budget for legislative comment. The estimated cost of the project is more than $117 million.

Pages 22 and 23 of the passenger rail study presentation show the proposed Manchester loop and station layout.

Manchester Town Manager, John O'Keefe, likes the idea of train service coming through Manchester.

"Right now we have no public transportation, so something like this would benefit us," he said. "This would also probably be our highest level of transportation service because it is unlikely that we would get an airport capable of transporting to great distances."

O'Keefe said that the only cost for the project that Manchester would have to endure would be maintenance and that the rest would be funded federally or by the state.

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.

"From the point of view of a vibrant tourist economy, the advent of passenger rail service to Manchester would prove to be beneficial," said Wilson. "Moreover, it would probably spawn new local transportation initiatives, like more cab or van service, to move inbound rail passengers around town." Added Wilson, "If train service does ever come about, I believe any negative impacts will be few and far between."

O'Keefe said that passengers would have the ability to get off the train and walk places because the train station would be located at the edge of the downtown area. You also might see hotels and ski resorts offing transportation services.

O'Keefe also said that it seems like this project is picking up steam and that the Manchester Selectboard has been asked to meet with officials of the project. There is no set date to meet, however this could happen in the near future.

For more information on the study visit www.ny-vt-passengerrail.org.


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