MIDDLEBURY — The town of Middlebury is applying for a $15,000 federal grant to plan for a local, passenger rail station in anticipation of ramped-up train service along the western part of the state.
Middlebury Town Manager Bill Finger said making progress toward a passenger rail station would also likely enhance the community’s chances for landing federal aid to replace the two railroad underpasses on Main Street and Merchants Row. Those two underpass projects have been on the Vermont Agency of Transportation’s to-do list for several years.
Middlebury Development Review Board Administrator Ted Dunakin said the state recently applied for federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) grant money to help make rail improvements along the western corridor — including the Middlebury underpasses. But the Federal Railroad Administration rejected the application, citing in part the absence of a formal plan for a station stop in the town of Middlebury, according to Dunakin.
A new round of ARRA rail-related grants is slated to be awarded in the near future, and Middlebury officials want to enhance the state’s odds of landing some of that money by laying the groundwork for a rail station.
“It basically ties the railroad station idea to the (underpass) proposals,” Finger said.
The study is likely to focus on three potential rail station sites, according to Finger. They include the town’s original rail station site off Water Street, near where the Cross Street Bridge construction recently took place; the historic railroad station off Seymour Street (which is privately owned and now being renovated for office/retail use); and the vicinity of the rail yard off MacIntyre Lane.
“There may be other places, but these are places that have been looked at in various ways before,” Finger said.
The grant money would be used to hire a consultant to evaluate potential rail station sites, do some preliminary cost estimates and help the town narrow the candidates down to a leading option. Finger said there is no requirement at this time that the town acquire a station site, though it must be located in the railroad right-of-way.
Middlebury will have to come up with a $3,000 local match toward the $15,000 grant.
“I think it is a timely proposal and we should go ahead with the grant application and see if we can work closely with the state and get everything in order so we can get the tunnel process under way,” Finger said.
Middlebury selectboard Chairman John Tenny said Vermont Railway is working hard to enhance the state’s chances of landing ARRA grant money. A major upgrade of the Vermont’s western rail corridor is being seen as a precursor to Amtrak passenger service — perhaps within five or six years, according to Vermont Railway officials.
“Certainly, that would create tremendous opportunities for the town that don’t exist today,” Tenny said. “It’s exciting.”
“We are long overdue for this,” added Selectman Nick Artim.
Reporter John Flowers is at firstname.lastname@example.org.