Letter: Rail funding a kick in the gut

Rail funding a kick in the gut

The State Line in southwestern Vermont just moved fifty miles north.

In reading the article in Tuesday's Rutland Herald about the $10 million awarded for improvements to the Western Rail Corridor to accommodate passenger rail service from Rutland to Burlington, I felt like I got a kick in the gut. Once again, Bennington County got short changed from our congressional delegation and state administration.

As previous chair of the State House Committee of Transportation, I had to bite my lip when I voted to allow the Ethan Allen to come to Rutland instead of coming through Bennington. Before I retired from the legislature in 2002, there was a rail project in the VTrans construction plant for rail improvements to the western corridor and the project was titled "ABRB" (Albany to Bennington to Rutland to Burlington).

This project was underway by convincing the powers to be that we should purchase the rail line in New York that connects North Bennington to the main line in Hoosick Junction that New York was going to abandon, and at that same time, got legislation to upgrade the rail from Hoosick Junction to East Dorset in Vermont with welded rail. This enables freight to be more accessible to Bennington in the interim.

Conversations between both state advocates continued for a while since I retired and VTrans hosted a public forum in Arlington with an update of the project. One of the presenters mentioned that it was the largest turnout for any rail meeting that he had attended.

Granted, rail has to be upgraded between Rensselaer and Hoosick Junction in New York to accommodate passenger service, but they are no more insurmountable then when we worked with New York to allow Vermont to build a portion of the 279 truck route in New York.

The hang up right now is VTrans is reluctant to send a delegation to Albany to convince their counterparts to have a conversation with their congressional delegation to work with our congressional delegation to come up with a solution for funding.

One of my proudest moments while I was in Montpelier was when Senator Leahy called me in my committee room from Washington to tell me the chair of the appropriations committee just informed him that he and Senator Jeffords, of our previous Congressional Delegation, have two million each of Federal Transportation dollars to use at their discretion and both agreed to designate those funds to improvements on the Western Rail Corridor.

I regret I could not have stayed in Montpelier longer.

— Dick Pembroke Bennington


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