• AllEarth Rail / Vermont Commuter Rail

  • General discussion of passenger rail systems not otherwise covered in the specific forums in this category, including high speed rail.
General discussion of passenger rail systems not otherwise covered in the specific forums in this category, including high speed rail.

Moderators: mtuandrew, gprimr1

  by Jeff Smith
In the news: VT Digger

Brief, fair-use quote:

Under the terms of legislation recently signed by Gov. Peter Shumlin, the Agency of Transportation (VTrans) is preparing to study possibilities for commuter rail service that would connect Burlington with Montpelier and St. Albans. It’s an idea that state planners have looked at several times before and rejected, but the notion continues to attract interest.

“We receive a lot of questions all the time about, ‘When will there be commuter rail between Burlington and Montpelier?’” VTrans deputy secretary Chris Cole said. “The goal of this study is to ascertain when it will be feasible on a cost-benefit basis to fund such a commuter train.”

In response to a legislative request, VTrans will broaden the study’s geographic scope to include St. Albans. A single line connects the Rail City with Montpelier via Essex Junction, from which another line proceeds 8 miles into downtown Burlington. The latter route is in poor condition, however, and would require major investments to be brought up to passenger service standards.

A 1991 study commissioned by VTrans found that commuter service connecting Burlington with St. Albans and Montpelier would attract 641 riders daily, and the fares would cover only about 17 percent of the service’s cost. Two years later, another VTrans-commissioned study produced even more dismal numbers and concluded that “the population densities in the State would not support regular commuter rail service, (although) there is strong evidence to support a Shelbume Road Reconstruction Demonstration Service as part of a total traffic mitigation program.” That finding led to the inauguration in 2000, under Gov. Howard Dean’s administration, of a Charlotte-Burlington commuter train that Dean’s successor, Jim Douglas, pulled the plug on in 2003.
  by TomNelligan
It's a nice idea and would be fun to ride, but the population just isn't there to support it. Burlington is a great tourist destination, the commercial center of northwestern Vermont, and the state's largest city, but its population is only about 43,000, which is FAR smaller than any North American city that is currently a rail commuter hub. Burlington does experience rush hour traffic jams on routes 2 and 7, but I'd be amazed if more than a few hundred of those folks have a commute pattern such that they can leave their cars, get a train at a convenient spot in the morning, and then get to their jobs in Burlington once the trains drop them off at Union Station. I rode the Vermont Railway's 2000-2003 service between Charlotte and Burlington on a couple occasions and let's just say that there was no problem getting a seat to yourself on the two-car train. The area has grown a bit since then but it's still pretty rural beyond a few immediate suburbs. (And Wiki says that the average Burlingtonian has a 17-minute commute, less than the US average of 25 minutes.)

I would also note that the Chittenden Country Transportation Authority already operates I-89 express bus service on commuter-friendly schedules between Burlington and St. Albans and Burlington and Montpelier, and that the Vermont taxpayers might be better served by just adding more commuter buses and holding off on an expensive rail service. There just aren't enough people to make commuter trains (as opposed to the intercity Vermonter and potentially a revived Montrealer) viable up there.
  by F-line to Dudley via Park
That's going to bump traffic up *just* enough to require signalizing/PTC'ing the NECR main, which currently stays under the daily train movements threshold to keep the Vermonter exempt from the mandate. That's a lethal added expense for something that otherwise could be set up on-the-cheap.

Champlaign Flyer also didn't do too hot on ridership for its Burlington-Charlotte commuter rail run. And that was very recent history: 2000-03.

A lot of this demand gets satiated by the Ethan Allen Express extension from Rutland to Burlington coming online in a few years. Phase 1.5 of that extension can easily be a wrap-around down NECR's Burlington Branch to Essex Jct. with requisite track upgrades on that very short Class 1 branch. The Western Corridor will already be Class 3/60 MPH from Rutland to downtown Burlington when the ongoing pre-EAE extension track upgrades are finished. Take the existing EAE plans on the Western Corridor + the not-pricey Burlington Branch upgrades and you've then got the EAE contiguous to the NECR main with fungibility for future run-thru routings. Add some EAE frequencies once those extension stages are done and subsidize some Springfield Shuttle-esque quasi-commuter fares and you pretty much gravitate exactly towards this proposal in more risk-managed fashion bootstrapping off existing plans and an existing operator. Hell, when the more distant Phase 2 of the EAE extension rebuilds the lower Western Corridor to include Bennington and relocate from Schenectady off CP's track onto Pan Am's they'd even have the ability to run a real Springfield Shuttle operation Albany-St. Albans at whatever schedule VTrans wanted to fund. It'd be a 100% bootstrap onto the long-planned Phases 1 & 2 of the EAE extension/relocation, and probably a short-turn service Amtrak would be very interested in running out of its large crew/equipment base in Albany since it wouldn't impact any Empire Corridor scheduling except Albany-Schenectady.
  by NH2060
Well the Champlain Flyer was really meant to be an alternative to Route 7 during a long term road work project so who knows if even then-Gov. Howard Dean saw it lasting beyond that. Charlotte and Shelbourne barely have any kind of "center of town" making them really just hamlets. Montpelier and St. Albans City OTOH are both at least of decent size and have their own downtowns; and the former is of course also the state capitol. And of course Burlington right there in the middle is a city and tourist destination of respectable size on its own. So I wouldn't discount a rail service proposal like this one. Even if it goes no further than extra Amtrak service simply having the trains timed to fulfill both an AM and PM peak round trip Montpelier-Burlington-St. Albans should be an adequate stop gap measure to at least gauge ridership patters in that area. And if commuter rail really isn't needed there then they'll know.

RE: a "short turn"/"shuttle" Albany-St. Albans train that's actually a longer single trip distance wise than even the BON-BRK Downeaster at around 170 miles vs. 150 so it could even retain it's own separate name while still being bundled in the timetable with NYP-ALB-Rutland-Burlington-St. Albans trains. They could probably call THAT the "Champlain Flyer". Or even the "Green Mountain Flyer" if Vermont Railway/GMRC is willing to give their tourist train another name. Would be even more territory-appropo ;-)
  by mtuandrew
I'd ride it too (to the Ben & Jerry's Factory in Waterbury!), but eesh, that looks like a boondoggle. It duplicates the spine of the Chittenden County Transit Authority system too, the 96 and 86 buses, but slower. :(

Though they could always install a heritage-style 70 mph interurban between the three cities. :-D
  by mtuandrew
Looks like a pet project of this guy David Blittersdorf, who makes gokeefe look like an Amtrak hater and makes SemperFidelis and myself look like rabid conservatives :P Here is one of his essays on sustainable transport.
  by electricron
He may be very green liberal when it comes to environment issues, but he has walked the walk and not just talked the talk. He's invested his own or his company's money at these issues. It'll be interesting to see how much government money, how much of someone else's money, or how much of his own money eventually establishes a commuter train line in Vermont.
  by SemperFidelis
Didn't realize I had acquired a reputation as a bleeding heart. I'll take it, though! :-D
  by mtuandrew
Indeed, Ron. He seems to have done well with his business model, and has a laundry list of honors and associations on his personal site. AllEarth Rail LLC looks to be just one of his AllEarth portfolio companies.

SemperFi: thought you might appreciate it :-D
  by SemperFidelis
Heh, MTU, we could start our own TEA Party:


Except we don't have to dress up in colonial era garb.
  by electricron
From what I've read from Vermont Transporation recent studies, they project around 1,000 to 2,000 daily riders. That's 500 to 1,000 riders per rush hour, one in the morning and another later that evening. With the RDC seating capacity just short of 100, that's between 5 to 10 full RDCs each rush hour. With 10 RDCs in their roster, one trip in each direction per car can do the job. Whether it's 3, 4, or 5 trains depends on how many RDCs are placed in each train consist.

And it is possible for the RDCs to make multiple trips during each rush hour, so 10 RDCs should be more than enough rolling stock to initiate e commuter rail services. And AllEarth Rail may have already owned one RDC prior to purchasing the 10 from DART (TRE) #6130. If reverse flow or multiple trips are needed, these 10 or 11 RDCs can do so without having to refuel. But to do so will probably require spending more for additional passing sidings and additional signals. If not, the only real additional expense needed prior to startup is leasing or building a maintenance facility for the RDCs. That could easily be an $25 million hit to build new. Hopefully there's something available for lease. :)
And there will probably be additional expenses to implement Postive Train Control over the 30 to 40 miles of track.

Additional expenses for platforms, crossing signals and gates, quiet zones, ticket vending machines, etc. can be accomplished cheaply or more expensively, depending upon local tastes and government regulations. Additional costs over the $3 million spent for the RDCs to date to initiate commuter rail services could fall between $25 million to $300 million, depending upon all the bells and whistles locals want or require.
Good luck!
Last edited by electricron on Sat Mar 25, 2017 3:51 am, edited 1 time in total.
  by F-line to Dudley via Park
mtuandrew wrote:PTC may not be a requirement with only 4 RTs plus the existing Vermonter (see Pan Am and Downeaster Service). Otherwise, yes, tens of millions.
Except this flies in the face of the current NNEIRI (CT/MA/VT joint study) initiative for the Inland Route shuttles and +2 round-trip frequencies through Vermont: the Boston-Montreal trip and a possible third New Haven/New York to St. Albans short-turn frequency. With the existing Vermonter being timed for a cross-platform transfer at Springfield with a Boston Inland to give Boston a second cross-tix/direct-transfer daily crack at Montreal. The whole reason that study is joining all 3 states at the hip despite the CT/MA Inlands being the far bigger prize is the way it leverages the "tinker toys" route setup @ Springfield to squeeze out extra diverging-route slots to VT out of alternating timed halves of an Inland. Such that the lower margins of the extra VT round trips can live comfortably inside the primary demand of the Inlands.

PTC north of Springfield + signalization of NECR dark territory from White River Jct. to St. Albans is an NNEIRI requirement. Estimate in the June 2016 service development plan for BOS-MTL pegged that at $145M, plus another $135M on the whole north-of-Springfield route (including MA Knowledge Corridor) for new controlled sidings. So if there's no avoiding it with +2 Amtrak round trips, there's no avoiding it with this RDC dinky operation.

Not only does that probably kill the economics of any sort of quick-starts commuter rail, but since the NNEIRI study is VTrans' #1 highest priority passenger rail investment at the moment they most definitely are going to make sure this thing is totally simpatico with what they're already studying. Meaning...either take a number until after there's a funding commitment that gives them both of their additional Amtrak slots before tooting one's own horn about commuter rail, or be prepared to wait much longer or move on entirely if more limited NNEIRI investment can only net them +1 slots this coming decade and have to defer any additional scale-up to a later era. But no way is some private outfit going to be allowed to stick their finger in there and make bold pronouncements when this regional study is at a very critical negotiating juncture between the three states on what parts of the final study they're each willing to fund. Vermont being the third wheel on this shindig makes them especially dependent on how whole-hog MA wants to go on the Inland Route, so not only do they want no drama at home from third parties...but they want no drama that registers as extra static for what CT and MA are trying to decide.

These guys have to be careful about what they say, how much they say, when they say it, and who they say it to. Even the best intentions spoken out loud in a municipal meeting or to some local paper could get slapped away by a VTrans that's being extremely careful about managing its political leverage with the NNEIRI. They're not going to be keen on outsiders free-associating ideas for their corridor when those ideas haven't been vetted for compatibility with this regional rail initiative.
  by BostonUrbEx
http://vermontbiz.com/news/april/allear ... -rail-cars" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

"AllEarth Rail, an affiliate of Williston-based solar manufacturer AllEarth Renewables, has announced its purchase of 12 vintage rail coaches to be used in launching a commuter rail service in northwestern Vermont. The announcement comes in the wake of a skeptical Agency of Transportation (AOT) report on the feasibility of a commuter rail system that would connect Burlington with Montpelier and St. Albans."
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 9