State, Federal Officials Celebrate Rail Line Improvements

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U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood and Vermont officials took a train trip from White River Junction to Brattleboro on Friday to mark the completion of track repairs.

They did it to celebrate one of the first rail projects in the federal government’s $8 billion passenger rail stimulus program to be completed.

LaHood praised Vermont officials for backing the investment in rail – and took a political jab at President Obama’s opponents at the same time.

"In some parts of the country, they’re trying to say the stimulus didn’t work," he said. "Baloney! This is it!"

Vermont’s $75 million project is a public-private partnership with the owner of New England Central Railroad.

Crews improved 190 miles of track between St Albans and the Massachusetts border.

It will connect with projects in Massachusetts and Connecticut. Federal Railroad Administration chief Joseph Szabo says the combined work will eventually reduce travel between St. Albans and New York by more than an hour.

Szabo says the improvements already completed in Vermont shave 30 minutes off that trip. He says the work will also benefit freight traffic.

"It’s about 140 miles of continuously welded rail that’s been installed, safety upgrades at 52 grade crossings, more than 50 bridges that have been strengthened," Szabo said. "And all of these represent vital capital improvements for the New England Central Railroad… that’s now going to be able to handle heavier loads of freight and deliver that freight at faster speeds."

Officials say trains will now be able to travel almost 60 miles an hour through the state’s eastern corridor, compared to about 25 miles per hour before the two year project started.

Governor Peter Shumlin told the crowd he expects even higher speeds to come.

"And investments in the west side of Vermont, so that we can run the line from Bennington to Albany to Manchester, to Rutland to Middlebury and up to Burlington," Shumlin said.

Shumlin also envisions service to Montreal, with an instant border crossing that he says is already being discussed.

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