Tuesday April 9, 2013

NEAL P. GOSWAMI

Senior Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- The Select Board agreed unanimously by consensus Monday to continue supporting an effort to restore passenger rail service through Bennington County.

Rail advocates have been seeking a return of passenger service through North Bennington and Manchester north to Rutland for years. The Southwestern Vermont Rail Corridor Committee was formed and has worked to support that effort.

The Vermont Agency of Transportation and the New York State Department of Transportation, with the Federal Railroad Administration, have conducted a two-year New York-Vermont bi-state intercity passenger rail study to identify proper rail routes.

Wendy Rae Woods, a member of the SVRCC, said the two-year study has found two final potential routes from six initial alternatives. One alternative would create new service to Rutland that would pass through North Bennington and Manchester. The other would reroute the Ethan Allen service through Hoosick, N.Y., through North Bennington, Manchester and Rutland, she said.

Woods said studies have shown that businesses locate and expand along rail corridors. Investing in rail typically leads to new jobs and business, she said.

"It means that jobs can come into the area where there is rail. it promotes a lot more interstate travel. it also allows people to work while they’re on the train. that includes phone called and texting and working on computers.


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Of course, you can’t do that while driving," she said.

Improved rail service would also provide a boost for local manufacturers, according to Woods. "There’s a real possibility that Š they would expand," she said.

Woods said passenger rail could provide a significant economic boost to Bennington and surrounding communities. She said there are millions of residents in the New York City area who are potential visitors for southwestern Vermont. Many do not own a vehicle and passenger rail service would allow for easier travel to the area and throughout New England, she said.

Passenger rail would benefit local residents because the area has no direct access to an interstate highway or a major airport. There is also limited rail and bus service.

Additionally, Woods said previous rail projects have shown that every $1 billion invested in rail returns about 20,000. The local rail project is expected to cost between $100 million and $120 million, she said.

"We could realize in southwestern Vermont 2,000 jobs. That’s a real boost to the local economy," she said.

Officials in New York, meanwhile, are concerned with any option that would reroute trains from New York to Vermont, Woods said. However, Vermont is currently paying subsidizes for the Ethan Allen service that runs mostly in New York before cutting in to Rutland. The two states are negotiating subsidies for various routes.

"Conversations and discussions and negotiations, I should say to be more specific, are continuing right now between the state of Vermont Agency of Transportation and the New York Agency of Transportation," she said. "That is ongoing as I stand here and speak."

"As you might imagine, there is quite a bit of consternation over there in eastern New York about that," Woods added.

Enhancements to the existing rail infrastructure is expected to take three construction seasons when it is approved and funded by the Federal Railroad Administration, according to Woods. She said the rail service could begin in 2017 if funding is provided in fiscal year 2014.

Select Board Chairman Joseph L. Krawczyk Jr. said communities like Bennington along the western side of Vermont were promised rail service years ago when the interstate system was constructed on the eastern side.

"It’s promises not kept," Krawczyk said.

Manchester offered its support last month.

Contact Neal Goswami at ngoswami@benningtonbanner.com. Follow him on Twitter @nealgoswami