The Department of Transportation issued a $50 million rail grant under the economic stimulus law to upgrade track of a freight short line in Vermont, as part of its effort to expand the use of passenger rail service.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said the money will go to improve 190 miles of track between St. Albans and Vernon on Amtrak’s “Vermonter” line, producing increased speeds, reduced travel time and greater reliability for the passenger service.
The project will install continuously welded rail and make other track improvements, put in new crossties, and make highway-rail crossing safety improvements on New England Central Railroad, a RailAmerica short line. The work will also “set the stage for more frequent service along this corridor and for extending the Vermonter service to Montreal, Quebec, in the future,” the DOT said.
By The Numbers: U.S. Rail Cargo.
New England Central operates 394 miles of track from the port of New London, Conn., to the Vermont and Quebec border just south of Montreal. It connects with four Class I railroads and its cargoes range from various wood and paper loads to metals, chemicals, construction materials, intermodal containers and automobiles.
But the DOT’s focus is on its passenger rail corridor, and the new grant comes out of the $8 billion fund for intercity passenger and high-speed rail projects in the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. That fund has been slow to rev up, and the Federal Railroad Administration has so far released $648 million of the total to actual projects.
LaHood said the New England Central project is part of President Obama’s broader passenger rail vision that “will not only create good jobs and help reinvigorate our manufacturing base, it’s also going to relieve congestion on our roadways and reduce our dependence on foreign oil.”
Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Szabo said the latest grant “will immediately put people to work and means long-term infrastructure improvements” in Vermont.
Amtrak’s Vermonter service is part of a passenger route connecting Washington, D.C., New York City, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont. “Within the limits of this project approximately 80,000 people traveled on the Vermonter in 2009, and more than 80,000 thus far in 2010” for an average 16.2 percent ridership gain, the DOT said.
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