Wednesday, September 02, 2009

VTrans, NECR seek funds to increase speed of Vermonter

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The Vermont Agency of Transportation and the New England Central Railroad are seeking $52 million in federal funds to boost the speed of Amtrak's Vermonter intercity passenger service and increase NECR's capacity for heavier freight carloads. If awarded the grant, NECR will contribute 10 percent of project costs.Plans for the two-year project include upgrades to heavier continuously welded rail, bridge work, new tie installation and ballast work along 191 track miles. The project would be funded through the Federal Railroad Administration's High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail program, part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

NECR is a "host railroad" for the Vermonter, which runs daily between St. Albans, Vt., and Washington, D.C., and operates over a 236-mile portion of NECR's track between St. Albans and Palmer, Mass. Upgrades would be made to 191 miles of this route, from St. Albans to the Vermont/Massachusetts state line. Between 2005 and 2008, the Vermonter experienced a dramatic 44-percent increase in ridership, while achieving the second-highest on-time performance across the Amtrak system. The 236-mile portion of the Vermonter route that runs on the NECR is heavily used, with more than 77,000 passengers in 2008 alone.

NECR is the main freight route through Vermont, operating 394 miles between the Vermont/Quebec borders and New London, Conn., and interchanging with four Class-One railroads. A RailAmerica property, NECR carries an average of 37,000 carloads per year, delivering heating fuel, road salt, lumber and steel products across Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Connecticut. The FRA has designated a portion of NECR - from White River Junction, Vt., to the Canadian border - as a high-speed intercity passenger rail corridor. The designation is based on the corridor's present utility and potential for future development.

"We believe the project is an ideal candidate for the HSIPR program," said VTrans Secretary of Transportation David Dill. "It's a shovel-ready project in a high-growth area and meets a clear transportation need. In addition, we're confident in our partnership with NECR, which has a strong track record of participating in several successful public-private partnerships, including the Bellows Falls Tunnel-clearance project and the Burlington On the upgraded portion of track, scheduled running time for the Vermonter would be reduced by about a half hour, and passenger-train track speeds in signaled territory would increase from 59 to 79 miles per hour. In addition, the upgraded track would be capable of handling 286,000-pound freight cars. Currently the track is restricted to 263,000 pounds.

"The increased freight-load capacity will greatly improve NECR's competitiveness," said Charles Hunter, RailAmerica's Director of State Relations - East. "The Class 1 industry standard for freight-load capacity is 286,000 pounds. With these upgrades, we will now be able to transport intermodal traffic received from the Class Ones in the ‘286K' cars generally used for trans-continental moves."

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