Amtrak advises against halting rail service

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(Host) Officials with Amtrak warn that Vermont could find it difficult to re-start rail service if budget cuts force the state to discontinue a route between Albany and Rutland.

Amtrak says the nation faces a shortage of passenger rail cars, so getting the train back on track could take a long time.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The Douglas Administration wants to eliminate a state subsidized passenger train to Rutland in order to save about $1.4 million dollars in next year’s budget.

Passengers would still be able to ride a bus to connect with trains in Albany, New York.

But the plan has met with strong resistance in the Statehouse and in Rutland. And officials with Amtrak now warn that once the train is gone, it may not be easy to get it rolling again.

Raymond Lang is with Amtrak’s governmental relations office. He told the House Transportation Committee that rail cars are getting old and scarce.

(Lang) “Our equipment is stretched to the limit. We don’t have any excess equipment in the Amtrak system.”

(Dillon) The shortage means that equipment not used for the Rutland service would be grabbed for other routes across the country.

(Lang)“I think the biggest challenge would be getting equipment back. Because we know if the train goes away, that we can allocate equipment that’s freed up to other areas of the Amtrak system and fill those cars because the ridership demand is there nationwide.”

(Dillon) Christopher Parker is with the Vermont Rail Action Network, a group that wants to revitalize train service. He says once a train is gone, it can take years or decades to restore service. Amtrak’s shortage of train cars makes the situation worse.

(Parker) “What they’re saying is they’ll use the equipment in other places, and it disappears from Vermont use, and it will be considerably harder to re-start the train than to continue running it.”

(Dillon) Lawmakers have suggested that Vermont hold off cutting the train service because the federal stimulus bill included funds for rail.

Raymond Lang with Amtrak said that Congress and the Obama Administration have dramatically changed rail policy.

(Lang) "The economic stimulus bill provided $8 billion dollars in funding to the states to develop high speed rail and inter-city passenger rail across the country."

(Dillon) Lang said the bill does not require the state to come up with matching funds. He said some of the funds should be available to improve rail service in Vermont.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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