A 30-year effort to reintroduce passenger rail service to Burlington is scheduled to succeed this summer, officials say.
Rail travelers will be able to leave Burlington for New York City and points beyond every day via Amtrak, starting in July, said Dan Delabruere, director of rail and aviation for the Vermont Agency of Transportation.
“It’s just so exciting,” Delabruere said at a recent public meeting. “We’re going to be able to get on the train in downtown Burlington and ride it all the way to New York Penn (Station), spend the weekend in New York and come right back.”
The train to Burlington is an extension of the Ethan Allen Express, an Amtrak route that currently runs from New York City to Rutland. After construction is completed, the train will make stops in Middlebury and Vergennes on its way to Burlington, officials said.
While Amtrak has yet to finalize its schedule, Delabruere said he anticipates the daily southbound train will leave Burlington’s Union Station at about 10 a.m. and arrive in New York City between 5 and 6 p.m. Headed north, the train will depart New York City around 2 p.m. and arrive at the Burlington Waterfront at about 10 p.m.
A factor in that timetable is a federal law that requires train operators to take a nine-hour break in between runs, said Carl Fowler, a member of the Vermont Rail Advisory Council.
Accounting for potential delays, that leaves about a 12-hour window where the train will sit in a Burlington rail yard while its crew spends the night at a local hotel, Fowler told VTDigger.
The train’s overnight location was a sore subject in the city three years ago. While a state-commissioned study called for the five-car train to sit at Union Station in between runs, some residents pushed back against that idea.
The parties eventually reached a compromise — a feat they celebrated earlier this month at a March 3 meeting of Burlington’s Ward 6 Neighborhood Planning Assembly.
“I’m really pleased to say the people on this call today worked hard to find a win-win solution,” said Chapin Spencer, the city’s director of public works.
Spencer added that he has plans to use the new passenger rail service, once it gets going.
“As soon as it’s running … I’m taking the family to ‘Hamilton,’” Spencer said, referring to the renowned Broadway musical.
But before that can happen, crews in Burlington must complete some small projects, Delabruere said. The Union Station platform and its canopy still need to be installed, and more work is slated for the Burlington bike path between King and Maple streets.
Additionally, crews are shoring up projects in Middlebury and Pittsford before the passenger trains start running, Delabruere said.
In the meantime, Amtrak has been performing “qualification runs” from Rutland to Burlington so train operators can iron out the route’s kinks, he said.
As passenger trains are reintroduced to the railway, passersby should keep their guard up and stay at least 15 feet from the tracks at all times, said state Agency of Transportation spokesperson Amy Tatko.
Conductors have already had close calls with pedestrians, Tatko told VTDigger in an email. On Monday, officials saw a group of students in Shelburne walking along the train’s route with a “complete lack of awareness that the tracks are actively being used.”
A train also nearly struck a farmer last weekend in Pittsford, Tatko said. “The farmer reportedly expressed surprise to a family member at both the speed of the train and the fact that it was an Amtrak train,” she said.
The Ethan Allen Express travels at 59 mph and takes a mile to stop, Tatko cautioned. Anyone whose car gets stuck on train tracks should get out and call the train dispatcher, whose number is listed on a blue emergency notification sign at every railroad crossing.
Nationally, “a person or vehicle is struck by a train every three hours,” Tatko said. “Please stay away and stay safe.”
Want to stay on top of the latest business news? Sign up here to get a weekly email on all of VTDigger's reporting on local companies and economic trends. And check out our new Business section here.