MONTPELIER, Vt. – The Vermont Congressional delegation has announced that the Vermont Agency of Transportation and the New England Central will receive a federal TIGER IV grant to upgrade track north of St.Albans, Vt., to the Canadian border. The funds will pay for 19 miles of new welded rail, ties, ballast, and bridge upgrades that will raise speeds to 40 mph for freight and 59 mph for passenger trains. The TIGER grant is providing $7 million, and the railroad is contributing $3 million. The upgrade will allow New England Central, which is owned by Rail America, to raise the weight limit for freight cars from 263,000 pounds to 286,000 pounds.
The state hopes to extend Amtrak’s Vermonter over the improved track from St. Albans to Montreal. Amtrak’s overnight Washington-Montreal Montrealer served the route until 1995 when the portion north of St. Albans was dropped. The remaining service south of St. Albans then changed to a daytime schedule and was renamed the Vermonter, which still provides service south from St. Albans to New York and Washington.
Christopher Parker, executive director of the Vermont Rail Action Network, said the funds could help bring back the Montreal service. “This award checks off one of four steps needed to extend Amtrak’s Vermonter to Montreal,” said Parker. “Progress is happening on the other three items as well, thanks to the delegation's efforts and the work of the Agency of Transportation and Amtrak.”
Parker said the four steps to get to Montreal are:
- Create a workable customs procedure involving pre-clearance in Montreal,
- Build the customs facility in Montreal Central Station,
- Raise the track speed to be competitive with driving,
- Create a service and staffing plan and work out details involving train crews crossing the border.
Parker said Quebec is now looking into funding higher speeds north of the border, and Amtrak is working on a service plan in collaboration with the Agency of Transportation. The states of Vermont, New York, and the Province of Quebec have funded architectural design of the facility in Montreal jointly.
The U.S. and Canada have agreed in principal to perform customs inspections in Montreal. The congressional delegations from Vermont and New York recently wrote letters to the State Department, and Department of Homeland Security urging the speedy completion of the arrangements.
The next upgrade for the Vermonter route is signaling north of White River Junction, Vt., which would allow speeds to be raised from 59 to 79 mph.