Letter: Rockingham should invest in Amtrak station and mill
Editor of the Reformer,
Rockingham voters will soon decide if buying its historic Amtrak station and restoring its oldest paper mill are wise choices. Based on passenger rail's growing popularity, similar investments in other states, the multiplier effect of local money, and the community's creativity, citizens should approve this investment and enjoy its benefits.
Amtrak just had its best year in five decades, and the Vermonter is a top performing state-supported train. In a few years the train should be extended to Montreal, resulting in a wave of Canadians headed for Bellows Falls.
In Virginia, the arrival of VRE commuter rail in 1992 prompted Manassas City to restore its historic 1914 Southern Rail Station and turn it into a highly successful Visitors Center, transforming a "Ghost Town" into a vibrant, revenue-generating downtown of small shops, restaurants, entertainment pavilion, railroad festivals, farmers markets, and parking garage (paid for by local, state, and federal money).
Connecticut and Massachusetts have pursued a similar investment pattern: 1. reopening Springfield Union Station (2017), now a top city attraction; 2. expanding New Haven - Springfield passenger rail service (2018), which increased ridership 39.1 percent in its first year; and 3. expanding rail service northward to Greenfield (just 45 miles from Bellows Falls), which is already meeting morning train rider goals.
Vermont is now spending federal money to prevent rock slides on tracks. Brattleboro wants to improve its station and platform. Amtrak has been providing more funding for station improvements. Non-local funding sources exist but expect local governments to provide matches.
The national Rail Passengers Association has estimated that every investment dollar produces three economic benefit dollars. When a local government leverages state and federal dollars, it multiplies its money a second time. So if Rockingham receives $3 for each $1 invested, their dollar should produce $9 of benefits. Thus a $240,000 investment could provide, in time, $2,160,000 in benefits.
An updated station will increase visitors. Unused space could be a visitor center, office space, restaurant, or shops. The mill building can be subdivided into spaces for local crafters and artisans to produce, display and sell their creations, a spot popular with locals and tourists alike, who are seeking authentic, "Made Locally" crafts. Outside space could be used for farmer and flea markets and other events. Local gardeners and artists clubs could transform the buildings and grounds to showcase their talents.
Amtrak's popularity is increasing nationally and regionally, and the community needs to take advantage of that growth, as others have done successfully. Fortunately, local money can dramatically leverage state and federal money and benefits. A core value of local residents is preserving the best of its history and preparing for future opportunities. I am confident that Rockingham residents will invest in the two historic buildings and a brighter economic future.
Dan Peacock, Member
Rail Passengers Association and Trains In the Valley
Surry, N.H., Jan. 11
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