Amtrak service will continue for 9 months

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(Host) A key legislative committee has voted to maintain Amtrak’s rail passenger service in Vermont for the next nine months, but the future for the state’s two passenger trains is very uncertain.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) The state of Vermont has ratified a new short-term passenger rail contract with Amtrak, rather than accept an immediate cut in service. The Legislature last winter allocated $2 million to subsidize the state’s two passenger trains – the Vermonter and the Ethan Allen Express. But Amtrak officials wanted the state to pay as much as $5 million to maintain the trains.

Under the compromise agreement, the state will pay $2 million to keep the trains running for the next nine months and the new Legislature will have the option of extending the contract on a pro rated basis for another three months. Transportation Secretary Brian Searles urged the Joint Fiscal Committee on Friday to accept the compromise:

(Searles) “The advantages of this, as far as we’re concerned, is number one – obviously – it’s within the amount that was appropriated for this purpose. And it gives time to reconsider, based on the policy and budget priorities of the new administration and the new Legislature, and we hope some resolution by Congress to what the future of Amtrak is.”

(Kinzel) If Amtrak insists on a much higher state subsidy next year, Searles says the Legislature will need to look at some options to the Amtrak deal:

(Searles) “It may involve Amtrak, it may involve feeder service run by some other authority than Amtrak into a smaller Amtrak system. It could mean, if Congress makes this decision, a totally different approach to passenger rail nationwide. But we think it probably is going to be a combination of options that’s supported by some partnerships with other states and what our study is looking at is some partnerships with other states like New York, Connecticut Massachusetts where our service currently runs.”

(Kinzel) The Joint Fiscal Committee also voted to encourage Governor-elect Jim Douglas to fill existing vacancies with the Vermont State Police. It’s possible that the State Police could have as many as 40 unfilled positions by the end of the year due to resignations and retirements.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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