Rutland leaders oppose Amtrak service cuts

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(Host Intro)  As part of the state’s budget cutting, the Transportation Agency wants to eliminate passenger rail service between Rutland and Albany, New York.

It would be replaced with a bus that would stop in additional Vermont towns. Transportation Secretary David Dill says that would add service and draw riders.

(Dill) “We think ridership will skyrocket from what it was with just the Ethan Allen because it doesn’t just serve Rutland. It serves Bennington and it serves Burlington, our major metropolitan area. So this could be the flagship for a western corridor rail service while we’re upgrading the tracks on the western corridor.”

(Host) Rutland area leaders don’t agree.

As VPR’s Nina Keck reports, they say now is not the time to cut back.

(Keck)   David Allaire is president of the Rutland City Board of Aldermen and a member of the state rail council.   He says local lawmakers heard news of the proposed cuts Monday and he says he and other community leaders hope to travel to Montpelier this week to plead their case before lawmakers.   

(Allaire) "We’re struggling in Rutland.  We’ve lost hundreds of jobs in the last couple of months.   Our economy is tough as it is everywhere.   It seems as though when some of these cuts come down from Montpelier that we seem to be the bull’s eye.  I don’t hear anything about train service being cut to Montpelier and Burlington corridor."

(Keck)   Bringing passenger rail service back to Rutland took years.

Tom Donahue directs the Rutland Region Chamber of Commerce.   He says the train connection to New York is important for local tourism and the ski industry.   With gas prices rising, he says ridership on the Ethan Allen is up.

(Donahue) "The numbers have increased over the years – from last year coming in and out of Rutland was 18,885.  This year 19,314 and they were up from the year before that.   So this service becomes more significant to the Rutland region and we can’t afford to see that eliminated."    

(Keck)    Vermont transportation officials believe a bus service between Albany and Rutland would be just as convenient but would save the state about $400,000 a year.   Tom Donahue, however, doesn’t buy that.

(Donahue) "Vermont Transit recently curtailed all service to Rutland – another nail in our coffin, so to speak.  And I’m not convinced that if people aren’t going to get on a Vermont transit bus to keep that viable, I’m not sure they’ll get on an Amtrak bus to Rennsaeler, New York, to board a train."

(Keck)   Bill Gillam Junior is a former alderman, who’s long been active in transportation issues.   He says western Vermont will always be at a disadvantage without an interstate   and promised upgrades to Route Seven have been repeatedly delayed.   Shaking his head, he says now its Rutland’s passenger rail service that’s on the block.   It’s a shame, he says, considering how many millions of dollars have already been spent upgrading rail lines along the western corridor.   

(Gillam) "What it will do is send the wrong message to Washington and Montpelier that oh, we really don’t’ care.  So they’ll move the money that’s been set aside future improvements to other projects.  And here we go again – back 50 years ago when we were going to build this interstate up through this state it was supposed to go through  Rutland and to Burlington  the promises – again have not been completed."

(Keck)   Gillam says he understands that lawmakers have to make some difficult decisions to cut the budget.   But he and other Rutland area officials hope they can convince lawmakers to spare the Ethan Allen.   Once this type of service is lost, they argue, they’re not likely to get it back.   

For VPR news, I’m Nina Keck in Rutland.

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