No date yet for Amtrak's return

The good old days as Amtrak passengers board the southbound Vermonter in Essex Junction in 2016. VBM file photo.

by C.B. Hall, Vermont Business Magazine Neither Amtrak nor the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) as yet has any specific date for the resumption of the national passenger rail provider's service in Vermont. On March 26, as the COVID-19 pandemic gained momentum, Amtrak truncated service on the state's two trains, the New York-to-Rutland Ethan Allen Express and the Washington-to-St Albans Vermonter.

Service on the Vermonter currently extends only as far north as New Haven, Conn., while the Ethan Allen comes no farther north than Rensselaer, New York, which serves Albany.

In an August 11 email, Amtrak public relations manager Jason Abrams told VBM that "we will return our trains to service in a similar manner to how we took them out of service – by monitoring demand, working with our partners, and continuing to prioritize the safety of Amtrak’s customers and employees.'

In an August 12 email, Dan Delabruere, Rail and Aviation Bureau director at VTrans, wrote that "the state is watching the COVID-19 numbers and evaluating the data not only in our state but also from where the trains travel from. We are hoping to resume service when the numbers can safely support the train returning to Vermont."

The federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, enacted in March, provided state-supported services, Vermont's included, with $239 million to assist in making required payments to Amtrak associated with those services. Asked about the status of Vermont's share of that funding, Abrams referred VBM to VTrans, where Delabruere reported that the state had received an 80% cap on its fiscal 2019 expenses for the two trains. This represents "approximately $1 million in savings to Vermont," he wrote.

Estimates place Amtrak's loss of ridership from the COVID-19 crisis as high as 97% at the peak of the pandemic this spring, although ridership has since recovered somewhat. The two Vermont trains serve 11 stations in the state, with three more to be added within the next two years as the Ethan Allen's service is extended from Rutland to Burlington - presumably, after COVID-19 relaxes its grip on the nation's traveling habits.