Train advocates rally in support of Amtrak

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(Host)    About 75 people packed into Rutland’s train station yesterday afternoon to voice their support for Amtrak’s Ethan Allen Express.   The train provides daily passenger service between Rutland and New York City.    

Vermont transportation officials say the state can save almost one and a half million dollars a year if they replace the train between Rutland and Albany with a bus.  

But many in the Rutland area say the plan is short sighted and would rid the city of one of its few economic bright spots.   VPR’s Nina Keck has more.

(Howard) "First of all, I’d like to say to Governor Douglas, please save our train…(cheering)

(Keck)   Rutland city representative Steve Howard was one of several Rutland County lawmakers who attended yesterday’s rally.

(Howard)  "This is about the waitresses in the restaurants, the cooks in the kitchen; the dishwashers who rely on people to be able to get to Rutland County and support our businesses.  This is about jobs today and jobs tomorrow." 

(Keck)   Bill Egner of Wallingford was one of many in the crowd.

(Egner) "I came down because I’m interested in anything that will support increased business in Rutland and bringing people to Rutland and the Rutland area to support the businesses.  And taking this railroad away will kill us."

(Keck)   Proponents of the train point out that ridership has been growing steadily for the past 39 months and that passenger numbers on the Ethan Allen are up 17 percent over last year. Hubbardon resident Alex Pritchard says he and his wife love taking the train. But replacing it with a bus, he says is a bad idea.

(Pritchard)"They had bus routes here before – Greyhound and the rest of’ em – they’re not even here anymore.  And this railroad – since they put this spur back in service again – it took a little time for people to get used to it.  But we use it quite often to go down to New York City and beyond.   It’s unbelievable that Jim Douglas and his crew would pick out this particular spur and knock it down."

(Keck)    Many in the crowd said it’s sad and frustrating to see so many Rutland area businesses closing.   Richard Frank says promised upgrades to Route 7 keep getting postponed, and now he says the state wants to get rid of the train.

(Frank)   "Rutland seems to be getting the short end of the stick quite often lately on matters of transportation and economics.  And I really feel the governors out of touch with what we’re going through down here."

(train sounds – whistle and bells)

(Keck)  As the Ethan Allen Express whistled and rang out its daily departure for New York City, many in the crowd made their way outside to cheer the train on.  Most admitted that that with the current budget shortfall it will be difficult to convince state lawmakers to save the rail connection.  But many are planning to try anyway.    

Local lawmakers encouraged everyone at Monday’s rally to travel to Montpelier to voice their concerns at a transportation committee hearing tomorrow afternoon at the statehouse.   

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

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