Middlebury begins search for passenger rail platform

MIDDLEBURY — The town of Middlebury has hired the engineering firm VHB to help it site a new passenger rail platform in anticipation of Amtrak service coming to the Shire Town within the next three years.
VHB was selected from among three firms that declared interest in the job, which calls for scouring the downtown area for locations that could host a platform for future customers of Amtrak service between Burlington and New York City.
Plans call for Amtrak’s Ethan Allen Express, which now ends in Rutland, to be extended north to Burlington, thanks to a $10 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant. That money is earmarked for 11 miles of new track and for new passenger platforms in Middlebury, Vergennes and Burlington.
Trains will operate at up to 60 miles per hour along this extended passenger rail route. The planned extension of the Ethan Allen route to Burlington is anticipated by 2021 or 2022, according to the Vermont Agency of Transportation.
Middlebury Town Planner Jen Murray said townspeople will be asked for their input on the new passenger rail platform, starting at a public forum to be held in mid-June. Town officials and VHB will vet all the suggested platform sites and ultimately narrow them down to a recommended selection. The Middlebury selectboard will have the final say on the site, according to Murray, who will manage the project.
Consultants will develop a scope of work and cost estimate for each location evaluated.
“All options are on the table at this point,” Murray said. “We’ll start at the first meeting with a clean slate.”
VHB and the Middlebury Planning Commission will also seek input on defining criteria for evaluating platform sites, including whether it must be located near a bus stop, parking and other passenger amenities.
Once the town makes its selection, VTrans will be tasked with building the passenger platform. Murray stressed Middlebury will only get a platform out of the deal, and not a train station or full-fledged multi-modal center.
The town back in 2001 commissioned a study for a possible multi-modal center, but the idea was never pursued. That study, completed by Stevens & Associates, will be among past research VHB and local officials will use as part of the current platform-siting process.
VHB and the planning commission will meet with the town’s larger transportation stakeholders, such as Middlebury College, Amtrak and VTrans.
State transportation officials want the Middlebury selectboard to have picked its preferred platform alterative by the end of September or beginning of October, according to Murray. VHB will generate a final report outlining all of the alternatives and how the process arrived at the finalist.
John Flowers is at [email protected]

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