Amtrak, where are you?

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Amtrak, where are you?

Fri, 09/18/2020 - 5:45pm -- tim

An Amtrak train moves westbound along the Ethan Allen Express route near West Rutland on September 16. Photo courtesy Bonnie Shatraw Wingler.  

by C.B. Hall, Vermont Business Magazine While the prospect of Amtrak's Ethan Allen Express reaching Burlington late next year has many people excited, the train from New York's Penn Station isn't even getting to Rutland right now: In late March Amtrak cut its itinerary back to a New York-Albany run in view of the precipitous drop in ridership occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The other Vermont train, the Vermonter, got similar treatment, and currently is coming no closer to the Green Mountain State than New Haven, CT.

Now, however, Amtrak ridership is rebounding, and pressure to resume the Vermont services is growing. At a September 9 meeting of the statutory Vermont Rail Advisory Council, VTrans secretary Flynn said that a decision on the service resumption could be made "shortly."

When asked at a September 11 news conference about the two trains' return to the state, Governor Phil Scott said, “We'll be working with the Agency of Transportation, as well as with the Department of Health, to make sure that we have provisions in place when we do have Amtrak running again. But I would say, at least, in the next two to three months, we'll see Amtrak running again in the state.”

On September 14, the Burlington City Council unanimously passed a resolution stating that it “supports the resumption of Amtrak passenger service in Vermont as soon as possible and urges the Governor and his administration to announce a date for service resumption.”

In response a VBM inquiry on September 17, Amtrak offered no specific information on a service resumption date. Once a date is set, however, Amtrak will require about a month to qualify the train's locomotive crews. That essentially means acquainting (or reacquainting) the crews with the route, as a safety measure.

An Amtrak train was photographed on September 16 along the Ethan Allen's route in West Rutland, apparently on such a qualifying run. That raised hopes among passenger-rail advocates that the train might begin serving Vermont again soon.

Interviewed after the Middlebury event, however, Flynn threw some cool water on those hopes, stating that the personnel in the locomotive were "just getting some engine time," plying the route between Rutland and Whitehall, NY, to prepare for assignment to any resuming Amtrak service -- not necessarily a Vermont train.

A September 18 email from Scott's Constituent Service Office to a Williston citizen stated that the governor "will continue to watch regional and state data as well as consult with health experts to determine when and how Amtrak services will resume. We are hopeful this can be done by the end of the year, but the data and science will determine that decision."