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PUBLIC HEARING

PUBLIC HEARING

VERMONT RAIL CAPITAL INVESTMENT POLICY PLAN

Held at the Coolidge Hotel, in White River Junction, VT on  Thursday Nov. 30, 2000 at 7 p.m. with 44 attending. Sponsored by the Two Rivers-Ottauquechee Regional Commission (VT) and Upper Valley / Lake Sunapee Regional Planning Commission (NH) in conjunction with the Vermont Agency of Transportation:

Peter Gregory of TRORC served as moderator noting that the business community in and around White River Junction was behind rail service. The presence of selectmen from Hanover (NH) and other municipalities from both states was noted as well.

Ronald D. O'Blenis, PE, of Parsons Brinkerhoff Quade and Douglas consulting engineers was introduced. His firm is assisting Vermont in preparing the plan. "Vermont has always held rail -- freight and passenger -- as a transportation priority." he further prefaced his comments adding that P-B's job was to review existing rail capital needs, formulate goals and policies, prepare an overall plan and make recommendations to the agency and legislature based upon a rating system which would consider cost, time-frame, safety, any economic benefits, enhancing existing operations and opportunities to attract private funding among others.

Charles F. Miller, Director of Rail, VT Agency of Transportation: State now owns 391 of 740 miles of track within the state. Many more rail projects now than in years past as a result of new federal impetus.

Improvements to the existing rail system should include more off-loading, especially intermodal facilities, and take into account the heavier rail cars now being hauled by the Class I RRs. Burdensome highway shipping should also be transferred to rail as per TEA-21 legislation.

Bill Magee, Iron Road / Northern VT RR: Taking over from Guilford of the Wells/White River line has opened all sorts of new possibilities including avoiding bringing in produce and commodities via more circuitous routes in Canada. Previously Maine and VT have been hostage to this. Irving Oil's participation in the New Brunswick Southern RR is testimony to interest north of the border in the New England market. And now french fried potatoes are moving out of Presque Isle each day reminiscent of the old B&A potato trains to Searsport.

Laurie Barnes, pres, Concord-Claremont RR (NH): The route from Claremont to Concord -- old Sugar River Line -- was in direct competition with The Northern Line (Conc-WRJ) receiving so much attention today as a possible Boston/Montreal connector. "But we're still here!"

Twin State Sand & Gravel has run out of material in NH; now has moved operations to Hartland, VT with 90 truckloads per day, the maximum allowed under Act 250. So they need rail. Our 1430 carloads in 6 months = 4000 over-the-highway trucks removed.

Stephen J. Glanz, manager for transportation planning, National RR Passenger Corp (Amtrak): "We have become good partners with Vermont helping them to get a better return on their passenger service. A study of VT's "western corridor" is in its third and final phase. But on this (east) side there is mounting sentiment to bring the Vermonter back into Montreal, but that's VT's call since it will involve additional subsidy (the state now underwrites Amtrak service at $1.5 million/year).

Questioner from Plymouth, VT: What about the "Palmer maneuver" whereby the Vermonter has to head east out of its way, then back into Springfield (MA) adding 40 minutes or more? Why not take the direct route starting at East Northfield directly into Springfield picking up Northampton, Greenfield and Holyoke along the way? Track there in very tough shape and this means dealing with Guilford. Some reference to the U.S. Supreme Court case of 1992 whereby Amtrak was allowed to condemn portions of the Ct. River Line in order to bring back passenger service.

Amy Guerin (also with Amtrak in government affairs) reminded of the Congressional mandate for Amtrak to be self-supporting by 2003. Cited as analogy to the Vermonter rural Oklahoma service thru mainly sparsely populated areas. "This service has been wildly successful. Communities along the line have joined together and created their own market."

The proposed High Speed Rail Investment Act presently before Congress will authorize Amtrak to issue $10 billion in bonds the interest for which will be taken as federal tax credits. Congress returns on Dec. 4 and the legislation, now attached to another bill, is still alive. Eleven rail corridors nationwide have been designated "high-speed."

Jim Saudade, Green Mt. Economic Development Council: "I have at least 6 companies interested in rail. Previously there were unlimited possibilities but more lost opportunities and frustration. Local businesses lost faith in rail under Guilford (one carload was 'lost' for three months!) and it will be tough to get them back. Don't forget the potential of Canadian tourism."

Miller: It could take as much as $70 million to upgrade the western corridor. The entire annual transportation budget for the state is $340 M. Also a need to take a closer look at rail south of Brattleboro. Amtrak Vermonter focus group held earlier this year at Ascutney where the talk was about better stations, a better ride (track upgrades by NewEng Central RR), better times (i.e., eliminating Palmer), better marketing, getting back into Montreal and support from NH, also a user of the line.

NH Executive Councilor Ray Burton: What is being done to improve the Claremont Jct. stop? Whose job is this?

Miller: Whether to raise tunnel clearance at Bellows Falls to accommodate double-stacks and elimination of as many at-grade crossings as possible also the subject of study. In VT sidings are constructed with the state paying one-third, the shipper paying the same amount and RR the other one-third. Freight rail undergirds passenger service which wouldn't otherwise be viable.

Hearing adjourned.

[Malcolm T Taylor <northeastnews@juno.com> December 01, 2000 3:24 PM]


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