Trains For America

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Vermont looking to cut back on Amtrak, despite continued ridership increases

Seems to be a trend we’re seeing a lot these days, doesn’t it?  The Burlington Free Press reports that the state needs to cut $21 million in transportation spending, and the state’s $5 million Amtrak subsidy is looking pretty appealing to those bearing the red pens. Fortunately, neither of the state’s two lines, the Vermonter to DC and the Ethan Allen Express to  New York, would be facing total elimination. Of course this is despite a 17% increase in Vermont Amtrak ridership from last October. The VT Agency of Transportation says it might even be able to make some of these cuts without legislative approval:

Several scenarios of cutbacks are being considered, Zicconi said, including eliminating one of the two lines or shortening The Vermonter’s route. The shortened route would eliminate service from St. Albans to White River Junction, cutting out stops in Essex Junction, Waterbury, Montpelier and Randolph in the process.

The Douglas administration has the authority to make some service cutbacks without legislative approval, Zicconi said. “There are other things that need to be done with legislative approval,” he said.

Zicconi did not immediately know the extent of the governor’s authority to curtail Amtrak service.

I’m obviously a supporter of Amtrak subsidies, and indeed generous subsidies for public transportation in general. But unlike a sheerly market oriented approach, subsidies don’t necessarily increase funding as use of the service increases. When this hard economy is creating governmental budget shortfalls all over the country at the same time America is increasingly turning back to the rails, we start to see this ugly paradox in action.

Hopefully some astute Vermont lawmakers will step in to make sure the state can stay competitive when it comes to rail transportation…. especially considering that neighboring states are looking at expanding their own services.

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One Response

  1. judith rocchio says:

    Governor Douglas what in the world are you thinking ? I read about a particularly horrible idea of yours in the paper recently. You are contemplating cutting into or cutting entirely the budget of our Amtrak service? We have one lousy train north and one lousy train south and the train is a comfortable, easy, affordable way to travel all through this eastern corridor.

    In fact, Governor Douglas, Amtrak brings visitors to the state of Vermont for a variety of reasons: skiers, hikers, cyclists – just plain visitors !! You want to shut down the opportunity to encourage visitors to your state because you can’t balance your budget?

    Have you not heard? The rest of the world is enthusiastically working toward cutting fuel consumption, encouraging the use of public transportation. Amtrak offers the most practical transportation presently available to Vermonters, New Hampshire residents, students traveling north and south from as far as Washington, DC all the way to St. Albans.

    I heard we might have the opportunity to increase the Amtrak service but someone else owns the tracks. Please, Governor Douglas, if you want to make a difference in the world for Vermonters, why don’t you use your influence to encourage this opportunity to travel and save energy, help the economy, and protect the environment ??

    Energy , Economy, Environment, and Enjoyment !

    One of the things I particularly enjoy is traveling north on a holiday weekend from White River Junction to Waterbury Center where my son and grandchildren pick me up. It’s just a short ride from there to their home. I can take the early evening Amtrak train, and the timing is perfect. That’s the chunk you’re going to slice out??

    The conductors, food service folks, engineers are delightful people; as are the people you meet in the train station : passengers, folks waiting for loved ones to arrive, the “trainiacs” who know EVERYTHING about trains. There isn’t even a “ticket person”. So, the gentlemen from WRJ who truly love the trains, keep the lights on, and keep track of when the train is actually due. What an experience! And, on the train, you often meet someone for conversation – you have no place to go until it stops at your destination. So you relax!

    I can stay with my children a couple of days, and catch the 9:00 +/ am train south to WRJ, and I’m home in just a few minutes. I enjoy those weekends. I don’t have to think about driving in the snow – or driving, period – so I am able to concentrate on enjoying my family.

    I’ve traveled to NYC from time to time too. We have ONE opportunity to catch the Amtrak train, with the same fine people serving us. When do you get an opportunity where the only thing you can do is read, sleep, work on your laptop……oh, or eat?

    One lousy train north, and one lousy train south. Folks in Europe laugh when they hear we have one train available to us. Train travel in Europe is easy, comfortable, affordable, with many, many choices for places to go because they have a real railroad system. They are working all the time to increase and support train travel. You should be working hard to get Amtrak healthy and growing into a real opportunity for the people you were elected to serve.

    Energy, Economy, Environment !

    Judith Rocchio

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December 2008


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