Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Passenger, Freight Trains to Resume in Vermont (8/31/11)

Vermont Rail System expects to run a freight train north from Rutland to Burlington today, its first on that track since Tropical Storm Irene struck Sunday. The train will deliver fuel.

Amtrak passenger service resumes today from St. Albans using Premier Coach buses as a substitute for the Vermonter train for the trip south to Springfield. A train will be available from Springfield to New York. Amtrak officials have yet to announce when the Ethan Allen would run again between Rutland and New York, but a Vermont Rail official said the service was scheduled to resume Thursday.

Irene hit rail lines across the state as hard as its roads, causing hundreds of washouts and extensive damage to bridges.

"We are still in the assessment stage," said Charles Hunter, assistant vice president for government relations at New England Central Railroad. Having identified 51 problem areas, he said, "We are having rock crushed, and we are mobilizing contractors."

NECR, which operates a line from the Canadian border to the Massachusetts border, hasn't had a train -- freight or passenger -- on its tracks since Friday, Hunter said. He didn't expect there would be any trains on the tracks south of St. Albans for the rest of the week, he said.

NECR has been undertaking a $74 million reconstruction of its rail line, but Irene brought the project to a halt, Hunter said. "We are going to have to concentrate on getting the railroad back in service."

Amtrak's Vermonter runs on NECR's track, but the train has been replaced for much of the summer by Premier Coach buses to allow the track replacement project to move faster. The buses were scheduled to replace the train until Sept. 18, Hunter said.

Vermont Rail, which operates several lines across the state, expected to phase in service on most of its tracks this week. Late Tuesday, the first freight was scheduled to travel between Rutland and New York.

Mary Anne Michaels at Vermont Rail said the most damaged line is the Green Mountain Railroad operating between Rutland and Bellows Falls. It runs through the area hardest hit by Irene's deluge. Vermont Rail officials identified at least 50 washouts on the line, she said.

The good news was that a helicopter surveillance flight Monday showed two critical bridges still intact, although they could be damaged, Michaels said. "We were happy to see they were there."

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