Former Vergennes depot picked to host Amtrak station

FERRISBURGH — The Vermont Agency of Transportation has designated the former Vergennes rail station, which now sits at the VTrans commuter lot at the junction of Routes 7 and 22A in Ferrisburgh, as a future stop for Amtrak commuter trains, according to Rep. Diane Lanpher, D-Vergennes.
Lanpher late last week emphasized Amtrak service in northwestern Vermont, long a goal of state transportation officials, remains several years away, but added, “I can’t tell you how thrilled I am” about the possibility.
“There is still a lot of work to be done before we welcome a traveler or see a train at the station, but I am very pleased to get this project this far,” Lanpher said.
VTrans Director of Policy, Planning and Intermodal Development Chris Cole confirmed the agency’s stance on the depot in a Jan. 29 email to Lanpher.
“As it stands now, the agency has plans to use it for a train station for Amtrak when it is extended to Burlington. This means the station will be open for four hours a day with a station attendant. The station attendant opens up an hour before and after train arrivals and departures,” Cole wrote.
VTrans moved the station, built in the early-to-mid 1800s, about a quarter-mile north to the site in late 2012, at a cost, including a new foundation and utilities, of around $700,000. The station’s move from North Main Street, Vergennes, to Ferrisburgh came only after more than a decade of discussion and delays.
Lanpher said funds remain — they come from the VTrans budget and federal grants — to renovate its interior.
“There’s about $500,000 left,” Lanpher said. “We will have a finished building.”
The station move is not the only county action related to Amtrak service. This spring, construction will begin on a $17 million project in Middlebury to replace deteriorating Main Street and Merchants Row railroad overpasses with a tunnel large enough to accommodate bigger Amtrak trains. That project is expected to take more than a year.
VTrans officials, according to Lanpher, had originally also hoped to locate a new Amtrak station in Middlebury, but turned their attention to the Ferrisburgh site because of trouble finding a spot in the shire town.
Lanpher said VTrans officials also looked at the pluses in Ferrisburgh: ample parking, easy highway access, and a building it already owns right on the tracks.
“We don’t have a spot in Middlebury yet … and we just happened to have the availability,” Lanpher said, adding, “There are a lot of positives about the availability there.”
Meanwhile, plans to use the historic former Vergennes rail depot as a welcome center remain alive, although in altered form.
Lanpher said VTrans itself would now become the primary user of the building, but VTrans officials, mindful that Amtrak staff would be scheduled for only a pair of two-hour time blocks per day, would like to work with county nonprofits to establish a presence there during regular business hours.
Lanpher has continued talks with the Addison County Chamber of Commerce and has also reached out to Art Cohn of the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, among others, in seeking a nonprofit or a consortium of nonprofits to staff the building, both before and after Amtrak starts operating.
She said VTrans is offering space free of charge and will discuss shared utility costs.
“The building can be … rent-free, with negotiated utilities, for a nonprofit that would like to be there,” Lanpher said. “But when the rail comes, that would be the primary use of the building.”
Still to be determined, Cole wrote in his email to Lanpher, is ultimately how space in the building will be divided and occupied.
“We need to better understand what portion of the facility is going to be reserved for a train station, what portion of the facility is going to be used for an information center (if any) and what are the other potential uses of the facility,” Cole said.
He added, “The state currently has no plans to provide funding for operating this facility as an information center. So I think this means that either funding for staffing it will need to come from another source or another user of the building will act as the information center staff while they receive free rent for their use of the building. Identifying either local funding or another user of the building who could staff the information center, is probably best achieved locally.”
Lanpher acknowledged the details to be worked out and the inherent uncertainty of the federal Amtrak funding. She also acknowledged the many local people over the years, including those on the Vergennes-Ferrisburgh committee that worked on the depot project and municipal officials, who helped the move become a reality.
“Many area citizens have been involved over the past decade,” she said. “I am proud to be able to carry their vision further along the tracks.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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