Feds give $10 million to spur passenger rail through county

BURLINGTON — A host of Vermont and federal officials gathered at Burlington’s Union Station on Friday to hail a $10 million U.S. Transportation Department grant that they said removes the final hurdle for restoring passenger rail services between Rutland and Burlington.
The official issuing of the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant by U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx will help fund the last leg of the Western Vermont Freight Passenger Rail Project, an ambitious, multi-year effort to upgrade antiquated Champlain Valley rail infrastructure.
Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and U.S. Rep Peter Welch, D-Vt., trumpeted the project saying in a press release that it will greatly improve the movement of freight in the region, allowing Vermont businesses to compete more effectively in the global economy. It will also relieve congestion and lessen strain on Route 7.
The project also intended to play a significant role in Vermont’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by doubling rail freight tonnage and quadrupling passenger rail ridership over the next 20 years.
Vermont’s Congressional delegation engineered the awarding of the grant to the Vermont Agency of Transportation, which will match it with state funds and use the money to replace track with new rail, ballast and ties; rehabilitate the Rutland Wye; and add new gates for public crossings, a new passing siding in Pittsford and a crossover in Leicester to allow for operational flexibility. The project will also include installation of new passenger platforms.
The project will completely upgrade the track to allow for safer and faster movement of freight and passenger speeds that meet Amtrak’s operating requirements, according to a Leahy press release.
The U.S. Transportation Department said the upgrades will extend Amtrak’s Ethan Allen Express passenger train service all the way to Burlington; currently, the service begins in New York City and stops in Rutland.
“This project will provide a convenient new transportation option that links Vermont’s most populous area with cities like New York and Washington,” said a joint statement by Leahy, Sanders, Welch and Gov. Peter Shumlin. “Improving the movement of freight is vital to our state’s economy and better positions Vermont businesses to compete in existing and emerging markets. This project is a winning scenario for passengers looking to travel across our state and for businesses moving their products across the country.”
Secretary Foxx said upgrade of Vermont’s Western Corridor was consistent with the goal of focusing the country’s transportation infrastructure on future needs, specifically those that are safer, more innovative, and more targeted to open the floodgates of opportunity across America.
“Transportation is always about the future,” Fox said. “If we’re just fixing today’s problems, we’ll fall further and further behind. We already know that a growing population and increasing freight traffic will require our system to do more.”
Friday’s announcement came as state and local officials try to iron out details of the replacement of two rail overpasses in downtown Middlebury, which stand at a critical point along the Vermont’s Western Rail Corridor.

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