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New Haven advances plan to move depot

FREIGHT TRAINS RUN past the historic train depot at New Haven Junction at a leisurely pace, but Amtrak passenger trains will move much faster and necessitate the removal from the depot to a safer distance. Independent photo/Christopher Ross

NEW HAVEN — The campaign to save the 19th-century New Haven Junction Train Depot, by picking it up and moving it roughly 1.5 miles east to North Street, has nearly come to fruition — thanks in part to state and federal help.

New Haven has received two significant grants toward the project: $350,000 from the Northern Border Regional Commission, a federal-state partnership for economic and community development in northern New England and New York; and $400,000 from the Vermont Department of Transportation (VTrans), which is contingent upon the building being moved by Dec. 31.

It’s not clear yet how much the project will actually cost, or when the move will take place, but officials will have a better idea once New Haven has selected a project manager and a moving contractor. The town is hopeful it can get the job done with the $750,000 it has in hand, said Steve Dupoise, who sits on both the selectboard and the Historic Train Depot Committee.

Other grant applications are also in the works, Dupoise told the Independent earlier this week, and the Vermont Division of Historic Preservation has offered to chip in $25,000 toward roof repairs once the building has been relocated.

Historic Preservation currently owns the building, which is located on the east side of Route 7 at the junction of Route 17, but the town will take ownership and responsibility for it after it’s been moved. Until recently, the building had been leased by Roundtree Construction for office space. It now sits empty.

A site just north of the town office on North Street will serve as the train depot’s new home.

IN THE WAY

Last winter VTrans informed all the parties involved that the building had to be removed or demolished because it’s too close to the tracks and impedes visibility for trains approaching Route 7 from the east.

This may have been less of an issue when the tracks were only being used for slow-moving freight trains, but after passenger rail service between Rutland and Burlington is restored sometime next year, Amtrak trains will come barreling through the Route 7 train crossing — which is equipped with signals and gate arms — at 59 miles per hour, according to VTrans Assistant Director of Policy, Planning and Intermodal Development Trini Brassard.

At such speeds, the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices recommends a sight line of 1,445 feet, Brassard told the Independent in February. But sight lines at New Haven Junction are in some cases as short as 15 or 30 feet.

Roundtree Construction officials and some town residents had hoped relocating the building a few yards to the southeast would allow the train depot to remain at the Junction, but VTrans stood behind its original directive.

GETTING READY

Picking up a building and moving it from one site to another is a complicated business.

In addition to securing permits that will allow work to be done in various rights of way, train depot project officials will also need to work with power and telecommunications companies to ensure the building has safe passage through town.

The town may try to move the building at night to minimize disruption to power and traffic, Dupoise told the selectboard on Aug. 17, but it’s too early to know for sure. He estimated the cost for moving power lines could run to $50,000 or more.

The size and orientation of the building’s foundation can’t be established until a project manager and moving contractor are hired, because those details will be dictated in part by the logistics required to move the building, Dupoise said.

Once it’s re-sited, the train depot will be hooked up to the water and septic system owned and operated by the Mount Abraham Unified School District, which provides service to the New Haven Town Office and Beeman Elementary School next door.

That system should have plenty of capacity to accommodate the train depot, according to Alan Huizinga of Green Mountain Engineering.

FUTURE USE

The New Haven Historical Society has expressed interest in occupying part of the Train Depot to hold its meetings and display its collection, according to a letter presented to the selectboard by Bev Landon on Aug. 3.

Landon also inquired whether some of the $34,000 bequeathed to New Haven in 2018 by the estate of Bristol businessman and civic leader Andrew Johnson could be put toward the rehabilitation of the train depot’s interior, including the preservation of its original hardwood floors.

The selectboard discussed various grant opportunities related to building renovation, but members agreed it was too early to determine how the building will be used or who will occupy it.

“We might not make a decision about that until next spring,” Dupoise told the Independent. “It will be owned by the town so we have to be careful about which tenants occupy the building.”

The structure has an upstairs and a downstairs, and will have a basement for the mechanical room, Dupoise said, but the building doesn’t have an elevator, and he’s not sure if the town will be able to accommodate scenarios that would require one.

During a phone interview with the Independent earlier this month, selectboard chair John Roleau applauded the work Dupoise and the Train Depot Committee have accomplished.

“I’m so happy it’s coming to the town and will stay here forever.”

Reach Christopher Ross at [email protected].

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