Saturday December 15, 2012

NEAL P. GOSWAMI

Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- Unless New York pays more of the costs, rerouting Amtrak's Ethan Allen train through Bennington County is the most cost-effective option to restore passenger rail service to southwestern Vermont, according to a study.

The study, undertaken by Vermont, New York and the federal government, identifies two potential rail systems, as well as an option that makes no changes in service. Transportation officials held a meeting in Rutland earlier this week to gather public feedback.

The Ethan Allan Amtrak service currently runs north from the Rensselaer, N.Y., rail station. It runs through the New York towns of Saratoga Springs and Fort Edward before turning east to Rutland.

The New York-Vermont Bi-State Intercity Passenger Rail Study includes a plan to leave the Ethan Allen line intact and add a new service through North Bennington and Manchester on the way to Rutland.

The other option is to reroute the Ethan Allen from Rensselaer through those Bennington County towns.

Transportation officials scored both plans, which produced very similar outcomes, according to Costa Pappis of the Vermont Agency of Transportation. "Both of those alternatives were so close to one another that we felt we really needed public input before we moved forward," he said.

Both options would require the same capital costs to build -- about $117.5 million each -- but they have different ongoing operating costs, Pappis said.


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Running a second service through Vermont simultaneously with the Ethan Allan through New York would cost about $5 million annually to operate. Moving the Ethan Allan service into Vermont would cost about $1.7 million annually.

Even though the Ethan Allan Service runs mostly through New York, Vermont is paying the tab, according to Pappis. He said Vermont officials will now "crunch" numbers with the help of Amtrak and look to negotiate with New York.

"We have to look at who's paying for what, and how that impacts both states. Right now, Vermont is paying the entire cost of the Ethan Allen. The annual subsidy is paid entirely by the state of Vermont," Pappis said.

Citizens who attended meetings have encouraged Vermont officials to seek some financial contribution from New York.

"The input that we got, what came out of these public meetings, was really to have some negotiations with New York to see if we can have some kind of cost sharing," he said. "That's going to be a major factor in which of these plans is chosen."

Pappis said talks with Amtrak and New York officials should be completed by the spring. A final plan will be selected at that time and will be "shovel ready" when federal funding is available.

"It's referred to as a study, but we're not just completing a study, we're actually completing a project," he said. "That serves as the basis for applying for federal funding."

Beau Duffy, director of communications for the New York State Department of Transportation, said New York officials have not yet taken a position on any of the options.

"I know that they're looking at the options and evaluating the pros and cons and costs of each one. I don't think there's a stance either way just yet."