Opinion: Detouring trains a bad proposal
I am writing in response to a recent editorial by Angelo Lynn, editor of the Addison Independent, and to other articles concerning the controversial work proposed for the two railroad overpasses in Middlebury.
I am an owner of an Addison County feed business, Phoenix Feeds & Nutrition. Our business is dependent upon the railroad for its lifeblood. While I am sympathetic to the anticipated disruption and economic impact this project may have on the downtown Middlebury community, the prospect of shutting down rail service that runs through the town and rerouting cars through other carriers would have a huge financial impact on my business as well as other businesses north of the construction area.
Please know that we are only one of a number of companies that are dependent upon the railroad to provide us with competitively priced, consistent service. Just to put it into perspective, last winter when a Massachusetts railroad had operational difficulties for a few weeks I was forced to reroute inbound railcars at a premium of $1,100 per car — when annualized this would result in a cost of over $1 million to my company.
This proposal would have a similar impact. I do not have the option of just raising my prices to offset this increased cost. We sell feed in all six New England states as well as New York so it is necessary that we stay competitive with out-of-state feed manufacturers. Mr. Lynn’s statement that bigger, wider railcars are more profitable for the railroads shows his lack of understanding concerning the underlying issues. Here in Vermont, because we have not kept up with the rest of the country with federally mandated railroad improvements such as this project, those of us utilizing the railroads are forced to receive only smaller railcars carrying less weight, which raises our unit costs.
Also, the rail lines in Vermont do not meet up to the federal standards required for passenger service — which we do not have north of Rutland. Hence, we are less competitive in the marketplace. In Vermont it is industries such as mine — not the railroads — that would benefit most from these larger cars.
I would suggest to Angelo Lynn and others that think David Wulfson, president of Vermont Rail Systems, is only concerned about his railroad’s bottom line, that it is Mr. Wulfson who truly understands the economic impact of this detour idea. Vermont Rail Services and Mr. Wulfson are being portrayed as corporate bullies. Nothing is further from the truth.
VRS is a small family owned business run by Vermonters. He and his company offer great service, something not seen very often from railroads. David himself is generous to his customers, employees, neighbors and friends. VRS is operating within the laws that were written at the federal level to address this exact type of situation. One can only imagine what it would be like if this railroad, or any other countrywide, were required to deal with every zoning or planning board along its route. It would certainly be the kiss of death for railroads in Vermont.
The idea of rebuilding the rail line to the east is a great idea, but in my opinion it is not practical to think that that could happen, not even in the next 40 years. We don’t have to think back too far to remember the uproar surrounding the proposed rail spur to the Omya quarry. This eastern proposed route would follow a similar path, though much longer. Just remember the Burlington beltline was originally proposed in the 1960s and it still is not built. Unfortunately, Vermont is burdened with almost insurmountable regulatory and judicial hurdles.
So my suggestion, to those in Middlebury that are so concerned, is that we all work together to get this project done, and the sooner the better. Please don’t selfishly think only about the inconvenience or assumed economic hardship to Middlebury but instead think about the overall wellbeing of our county, as well as the state. After all, as Mr. Lynn states, it’s not the railroad that is creating the problem. It’s a Middlebury street.
Phoenix Feeds & Nutrition
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