(Host) The House and Senate still strongly disagree about the future of the Champlain Flyer, a commuter train project in Chittenden County. The disagreement is a central issue in the negotiations over next year’s transportation bill.
VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.
(Kinzel) In the next fiscal year, it’s estimated that the State of Vermont will spend roughly $330 million on a variety or transportation projects; approximately half of the money is raised by the state, the other half comes from the federal government.
A House-Senate conference committee looking at next year’s transportation bill has agreed on a number of outstanding issues between the two chambers but an appropriation of about $400 thousand for the operating budget of the Champlain Flyer remains as a major point of disagreement.
The House wants to terminate the train now, but it’s offered to keep it running until next April 30. This would allow next year’s legislature to determine the fate of the train early next winter. Shelburne Representative George Schiavone says the train has failed to meet ridership projections and deserves to be shut down:
(Schiavone) "No matter what you say about rail Â– and they are some good rail projects, there are some very good rail projects Â– but you’ve got to look at the ones that aren’t good and you’ve got to cull them out. And we’ve been extremely generous in allowing it to go on…. We’ve got to look carefully at what’s going on and do the right thing for Vermont and part of it is getting control of a project that is out of control."
(Kinzel) Senate negotiators have rejected this option arguing that the three-year demonstration project must be allowed to run its full schedule before a final decision is made about the Flyer.
The federal government has appropriated more over $20 million for this project. The bulk of the money has been used to upgrade the track between Charlotte and Burlington. Senate Transportation Chairman Dick Mazza is very concerned that the federal government will ask for this money back if the timetable for the Flyer is curtailed:
(Mazza) "But I’m not about to gamble $16 million of track improvements on that line, which we have benefited from in the freight business, and jeopardize that thinking that, ‘Well, commuter rail’s been in effect for 15 months and let’s pull the plug on it.’ That’s the issue."
(Kinzel) If House members cannot convince the Senate to terminate the train ahead of schedule, it’s likely that they’ll try to include a comprehensive performance audit of the Flyer in the transportation bill.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.