Editor's note: This story is by Randolph T. Holhut, staff writer for The Commons, where it was originally published in issue #198 (Wednesday, April 10, 2013).
BRATTLEBORO—If the trains moving in and out of Brattleboro seem a bit faster these days, it’s all because of the recent track upgrade that allowed passenger and freight trains to speed up their travel times in Vermont.
A two-year, $74 million federally funded program provided for the upgrade and repair of a 190-mile stretch of track, signal, and other key infrastructure equipment owned and maintained by New England Central Railroad (NECR) between the Massachusetts border and St. Albans.
As a result of these improvements, track speeds along the route within Vermont have been increased, from 55 miles per hour to a maximum 59 mph north of White River Junction, and from 59 mph to a maximum 79 mph south of that location to the Massachusetts border.
Amtrak, which operates the Vermonter passenger train between Washington, D.C., and St. Albans, recently revised the timetable for the train, reducing the overall travel time within Vermont by 28 minutes.
The southbound Vermonter now arrives in Brattleboro at 12:20 p.m., 10 minutes earlier than its previous schedule. The northbound train arrives at 5:07 p.m. Arrival time for the southbound train to New York City is now 6:25 p.m., and 10:25 p.m. to Washington, D.C.
According to Amtrak, the Vermonter experienced ridership growth in 2012, up 5.5 percent with more than 82,000 passengers.
On-time performance has also improved. Amtrak claims it is 90.3 percent so far this year, up nearly 5 percent from a year ago.
Below the Vermont border, on the NECR line between South Vernon and Palmer, Mass., now used by the Vermonter, track speeds will remain unchanged.
Work continues on the Vermonter’s new route from South Vernon to Springfield, Mass., via Greenfield, Northampton, and Holyoke along the 47.8-mile Connecticut River line. That route used to be used by passenger trains until track conditions deteriorated and forced Amtrak to re-route the train in the early 1990s.
According to the Vermont Rail Action Network, (www.railvermont.org), a train advocacy group, it will take at least another year before the $73 million Connecticut River Line upgrade is completed. When finished, it should shave another 30 minutes of travel time from the Vermonter’s time table.
Upgrades to the Vermonter’s route between Springfield, Mass., and New Haven, Conn., are expected to be finished by 2016.
With faster trains comes increased risks for accidents at rail crossings. While flashers and crossing gates have been retimed to provide at least 20 seconds warning, motorists are urged to be even more cautious at non-signaled crossings.
Amtrak is continuing to offer $12 one-way tickets for the Vermonter for travel within the state of Vermont. Seats must be purchased at least one day in advance of one’s travel date, and other restrictions apply. Visit www.amtrak.com for more information.