by Carla Occaso
MONTPELIER — A passenger train rolled through Montpelier Aug. 15 at a little past 9:30 a.m. starting from the old train station (now Sarducci’s on one side and Minuteman Press/Citizens Bank).
Under a sunny blue sky the train came to life and started to chug along the tracks. On board was a smiling, impeccably dressed Mayor Thom Lauzon, heading back to his native Barre after meeting with Montpelier Mayor John Hollar to give the train their blessing. Also on board was David Blittersdorf, who purchased the trains to bring public transportation back to Central Vermont as part of an overall scheme toward energy efficiency.
“It was exciting to see us take a big step towards passenger train service in Montpelier with the delivery of these new trains. David Blittersdorf deserves a great deal of credit for making an enormous personal investment in a cleaner transportation system for central Vermont,” Hollar told The Bridge by email.
Blittersdorf, president and chief executive officer of all Earth Renewables, bought a fleet of 12 cars that are now in Vermont, he told The Bridge by email. The cars that went on the rails Aug. 15 came from Dallas, Texas. He has two other cars that came from Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada and are currently in St. Albans. The cars, called Budd cars dating back to 1950, can run individually, independent of each other, on their own propulsion.
When asked the cost of the cars, Blittersdorf responded, “I have formed a new company, AllEarth Rail, LLC, that I wholly own to advance efficient, cost effective passenger transit in Vermont. I have invested over $5 million to date. We are doing rail ‘The Vermont Way!’ Not over priced or gold plated.”
Before the cars will be open to the public, Blittersdorf says, they need to be readied for self-powered use. Also, he needs to connect the drive shafts, re-certify them and test all the systems in preparation for a test run. He expects the will be ready for “test runs and VIP tours starting before winter.”
As for what fare the general public would pay once they are up and running? “Don’t know. We are in the early stages of working with all the transportation stakeholders to put together a passenger rail success plan,” Blittersdorf wrote. He emphasized that riding a train would be a lot lower cost than owning and driving a car. The system also “needs to integrate with buses, bikes, walking and other last mile connection methods.”
This occasion was sponsored by Net Zero Vermont to highlight and advance shared goals and objectives for a sustainable future.
Debra Sachs, executive director of Net Zero Vermont, attended the event and explained how the project dovetails with attaining energy efficiency. “Commuter transit, as an alternative to single-occupancy vehicles within the ‘Capitol Corridor,’ is a major component of Team Bridges’ winning design for the Sustainable Montpelier 2030 Design Competition. The arrival of the Budd rail cars is the first step toward expanding commuter rail service in Vermont.” Net Zero Vermont is a nonprofit organization that hosted a design competition for architects, and city and land planners to come up with a way to make Montpelier attain net zero by 2030. The winning group, Team Bridges, won the $10,000 prize.
Part of the design incorporates a train as part of a public multi-modal transportation plan according to Jay Ancel, one of the architects on Team Bridges and a partner with Montpelier-based Black River Designs.
As for how these trains fit into the winning design? “Related to energy, a core idea of our Team Bridges solution was to reduce dependency on the car with rail oriented development and in the core areas along the rail and river. People living in the corridor could likely get rid of one car and meet their needs as walkable or by rail say from Barre through Montpelier, and perhaps on to Waterbury,” Ancel told The Bridge.
“Having a train connected to a robust public transit, and bikes, walking paths, access to the river and to downtown … hopefully the plans will come to life when the city moves forward. It looks as though the cities of Barre, Montpelier, Waterbury and Burlington are interested in passenger rail service coming back,” Sachs said as the train started to pull out. She said the train could make stops along the way at restaurants and local brew pubs as well as bringing people to work.
Note: Net Zero Vermont, Inc. is a 501c3 non-profit organization established to help Vermont communities advance a shared vision for a sustainable future that provides economically vibrant, people-centered downtowns and transforms our transportation and energy systems to low carbon alternatives. For more information about Net Zero Vermont, community design competitions and other resources, visit www.netzerovt.org, and follow us on Twitter at twitter.com/netzerovt.
Team Bridges’ Winning Design for Sustainable Montpelier 2030 Net Zero Design Competition