(Host) State officials hope to learn next week if Amtrak plans to make any changes in service to Vermont’s two passenger trains. Any effort to reduce service could encourage some private groups to take over the operations of the lines.
VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.
(Kinzel) The future of the state’s two passenger trains, the Ethan Allen Express and the Vermonter, should become clearer in the next few weeks. Currently, the state of Vermont and Amtrak disagree on the amount of money the state should allocate to subsidize the operations of these two trains.
Amtrak is requesting $2.7 million in the new fiscal year. However lawmakers level-funded this appropriation at $2 million when they passed the state budget last month. Charlie Miller, who is director of the state’s rail division, is expecting a counter offer from Amtrak next week.
Miller says it’s likely that Amtrak will review its level of service to Vermont if the state refuses to increase the subsidy amount:
(Miller) “If that’s the case, I think Amtrak will make a decision about how much service they would like to supply to the state and what that service would look like and put that on the table. That’s, I’m sure, where we are headed.”
(Kinzel) Senate Transportation Chairman Dick Mazza is concerned that Amtrak, because it faces some difficult financial problems, will cut service in Vermont and demand more money:
(Mazza) “I think Amtrak is going to price us out of the market, so that’s a possibility. But you have to weigh the benefits of increased subsidy and I don’t think Amtrak is ready to produce more and better service for more money. I’m hearing less service for more money. So I’m not convinced that that’s a route that I want to go.”
(Kinzel) The Legislature did authorize a special study this summer to determine if it’s feasible for a private company to take over the operations of Amtrak in Vermont. Mazza thinks the idea has a lot of merit:
(Mazza) “I think it could be a lot less money than we are paying Amtrak. I believe we could do it privately for a lot less money than we do on the national level. Amtrak needs billions of dollars in infrastructure repairs. Our state infrastructure is great in the state of Vermont. So I think we have the tracks to accommodate passenger rail but we don’t have to have an Amtrak engine pulling it.”
(Kinzel) The state has already received several responses from companies that are interested in taking over Amtrak’s service in Vermont.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.