Trains For America

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New England lacking behind in HSR prospects, but at least Vermont is keeping its Amtrak service

Seems like news about its salvation was far more muted than the ruckus surrounding its possible cancellation, but Vermont has chosen to increase its gasoline tax rather than cease support for its popular Ethan Allen Express route. Here’s the critical portions of a brief AP snippet from earlier this month:

Vermont lawmakers have passed a transportation bill that will raise gasoline taxes by about 3 cents at the pump at current prices.

The $540 million transportation bill for the fiscal year that begins July 1 spares Amtrak rail service between Rutland and New York from being eliminated. It also sharply increases the budget to repave Vermont’s battered roads.

This is great news. It would have been a huge shame for the state to end one of its well-liked Amtrak services at this critical juncture. Sure, the economy is bad, but ending smart transportation services like this is not the way to put us on the path to a more stable green economy.

But if New England is avoiding steps back, it doesn’t really seem to be moving forward, at least according to this Boston Globe article:

Until late last year, New England lacked a regionwide high-speed rail organization – an illustration, transit advocates said, of the region’s belated effort to craft a high-speed rail plan encompassing all six states.

As a result, advocates fear, a region that hosts the fastest train in the nation, Amtrak’s Acela, and has no shortage of ideas for improved rail service, may miss out on the funding in favor of California and the Midwest, which have been methodically developing high-speed rail plans for decades.

“New England needs to be better organized,” said Tom Irwin, a senior attorney for the Conservation Law Foundation and one of the founders of the New England Regional Rail Coalition, the group assembled last year that is lobbying for a share of the high-speed rail funding that Congress approved as part of the economic stimulus plan.

A missed opportunity? Depends on the way you look at it. On one hand, this is a fairly dense region that seems well-suited to passenger rail service. On the other hand, there are already a number of lines that crisscross New England, which is more than you can say for an underserved region like the Midwest or Florida. And as the article admits, successful projects anywhere in the country could increase momentum for HSR that could eventually benefit the region. So while I certainly sympathize with Globe article, it’s high time forother parts of the country to see at least some of the same service that the region enjoys with the Acela and other frequent routes. Certainly worth a read.

Filed under: Amtrak, United States High Speed Rail,

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