In a welcome sign for commuters, tourists and businesses across Central Vermont, the Vermont Agency of Transportation announced Thursday that Amtrak passenger rail service and inter-city bus service in Vermont will resume effective July 19.
“We are very pleased to announce the restart of these vital transportation services for Vermonters and those who wish to travel to and from Vermont by train or bus,” said Transportation Secretary Joe Flynn. “With the Governor’s announcement this week of the Vermont Forward Plan to reopen Vermont fully during the next few months, we now have a target date for when we will be able to safely resume Amtrak and transit services in July.”
Passenger rail service has been suspended since March 26, 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With rising vaccination rates, Gov. Phil Scott announced his Vermont Forward Plan earlier in the week to reopen much of the state by July 4, but that date rests on Vermonters continuing to receive vaccines. Current projections indicate that 60%-70% of all Vermonters will need to be vaccinated by early June in order for Scott’s plan to reach its goals.
Christopher Parker, executive director of the Vermont Rail Action Network said, “Cheers to the Governor and the Agency of Transportation for ensuring that the re-opening is done well, the right way, without a frantic scramble and with enough advance time for travelers to book tickets and make plans.”
Both Amtrak lines in Vermont, the “Vermonter” between St. Albans and Washington, D.C., which stops at Montpelier Junction, and the “Ethan Allen Express” between Rutland and New York City would resume in July. The state expects to complete an extension of the Ethan Allen to Burlington as soon as next year. Bus service would also return to the state with V-TRANS routes connecting western Vermont with Albany, N.Y., as well as Greyhound service between Burlington and Springfield, Mass. that will expand to Montreal once the Canadian border reopens.
While Vermonters might be eager to get back on the rails, they won’t be able to make reservations right away. In an email to The Bridge, Amtrak Public Relations Manager Jason Abrams responded, “not yet,” when asked when riders might be able to start booking travel.
Last week, President Joe Biden, a noted Amtrak enthusiast, unveiled his “American Jobs Plan,” a $2 trillion over 8 years infrastructure plan that includes $80 billion specifically for rail. At the same time, Amtrak announced an ambitious expansion plan to “grow rail service and connect city pairs across America.” According to Amtrak’s plan, the Vermonter is in line for “enhanced service” along its current route as well as the long-awaited extension to Montreal. The Vermont Rail Plan, adopted by the state in March calls the extension of the Vermonter to Montreal, “a top priority for the state.” The Bridge reported last month on the plan, which includes upgrades for Montpelier Station.
Amtrak’s plan also calls for substantial upgrades to the “Northeast Corridor” on which the Vermonter runs between New Haven, Conn., and Washington, D.C., Amtrak CEO Bill Flynn said, “The NEC’s many major tunnels and bridges – most of which are over a century old – must be replaced and upgraded to avoid devastating consequences for our transportation network and the country.” The plan also includes upgrades to lines in Massachusetts that would allow for easier access to Boston from Vermont via connections in Albany, N.Y., and Springfield, Mass.
Of course, Biden’s plan must be passed by Congress before any money is spent. Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy said last week, “President Biden is proposing a bold plan to repair and revitalize our nation’s crumbling infrastructure. This is an investment that is long overdue, and it will create tens of thousands of jobs and make our country more competitive on the global stage. This President is challenging us to take strong and substantive steps to move our country forward, and as Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee I intend to join him in that effort.”
If the path of Budget Reconciliation in the U.S. Senate is required to pass the plan, Vermont’s other senator, Bernie Sanders, would play a large role as the Chairman of the Budget Committee.