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Amtrak is Back in Town

Crowds await the arrival of the Amtrak train in Montpelier on Monday morning, July 19. Tim Donovan, in blue shirt at front of crowd, was taking his granddaughter Neala on the excursion. Photo by John Lazenby.
Monday morning’s throng at the Montpelier Junction rail station in Berlin may not have been the largest ever assembled to welcome a train, but it was larger than any in the current station-master’s memory.

While masks are still required on board by federal transportation rules, they were worn by relatively few among those on the platform for the celebration. The restart of the Amtrak Vermonter’s regular service was sold out all the way to Brattleboro, owing in part to a $1 special ticket price.

Tim Donovan, who was taking his granddaughter on the excursion, may have purchased the last available $1 ticket on Sunday. “My ticket was a dollar, hers was $7,” he said, clearly not deterred from taking the trip.

John Zampieri II, sporting new glasses and an engineer’s cap, was taking the train as far as White River Junction with his mother Rebecca. His aunt Ramona planned to meet them for the drive home. Most of the passengers were planning to return via VTrans-arranged shuttle buses from Brattleboro, a service included the day’s special pricing.

The anticipated arrival of the train was preceded by brief comments from a variety of dignitaries along with ample treats for those attending — notably creemees with a variety of optional sprinkles. Montpelier Mayor Anne Watson explained that she and her husband have postponed their vacation so they will be able to travel by train. “On a train you have space to walk around, Wi-Fi, and the opportunity to meet people,” she said. She also noted that per passenger mile, travel by train produces considerably less greenhouse gas emissions than flying.

Montpelier Mayor Anne Watson speaks at the gathering. Photo by John Lazenby.
Jim Murphy, who qualified his appearance at the event by noting he isn’t much of a speaker, said, “I’m more of a talker.” Murphy recalled that he first came to the station in July of 1955 to work as a clerk in the ticket office. On a hot, sticky afternoon he’d taken his shirt off when a man approached the window and asked if the train was on schedule. After assuring the man it would be on time, Murphy recognized who it was — and he quickly put his shirt back on. Richard Nixon, then vice president, had brought his daughters to the Teela-Wooket summer camp in Roxbury and was returning to Washington, D.C.

Amtrak officials reminded the waiting crowd that trains are typically traveling faster than they appear to be. Many of the crossings in this section of Amtrak’s route do not have signals; extra caution is essential at all crossings. 

As the time came close for the Vermonter’s arrival, station staff patrolled the platform, making certain the visitors would be standing well back of the yellow line when the train rolled in.

The parking lot was a bit jammed when participants returned to their cars. Half a dozen medium-sized buses, hired to return train passengers to Burlington and St. Albans, had occupied the middle of the lot. Those with parked cars had to wait until the train passengers from the first leg had boarded the shuttles to move their own vehicles. Bicyclists who had braved the threat of rain were clearly vindicated.

Story was updated July 23 to clarify the location of the rail station.