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All aboard' for the fall-foliage express - Part 1

If you love Vermonts proud railroading heritage or simply want a fun activity to enjoy with family or friends, then check out Vermont Rail Systems (VRS) Green Mountain Flyer passenger train. Its one of the few remaining passenger trains operating in the state. You still have time to enjoy the fun of a stunning fall-foliage rail run until Sunday, Oct. 28, when the 2007 railroading season ends.

The Green Mountain Flyer passenger train, under VRSs Green Mountain Railroad ensign, is pulled by old 405, a sleek green-and-gold colored, circa 1951, 1,000 hp ALCO diesel-electric locomotive.

Locomotive engineer Gary Mac McFarland carefully navigates the train along its 52-mile roundtrip from Bellows Falls, VT, to Chester Depot, VT, and back again. Twenty-two-year-old conductor Matt Goyette, the youngest conductor in Vermont, is responsible for the smooth operation of the Flyer.

Via radio, Goyette keeps in touch with Vermont Rail Systems dispatchers located in downtown Rutland behind Wal-Mart. The distant dispatchers, Jade Johnson and Robin Lee, follow the Flyers path at every step of the wayalong the Connecticut Valley and Williams River Valley trackson a desktop computer display.

Trainmen Harry Sharbaugh and Bob Popovac, technically called passenger representatives, greet passengers and answer their every need. Passengers choose between two beautifully restored coaches551, a circa 1913 Rutland Railroad Pullman coach, fitted out with RMS Titanic-era appointments, and a 1930s New Jersey Central dining coach with plenty of delicious Vermont-made snack and beverage products to enjoy along the way.

Both Sharbaugh and Popovac are experts about the Green Mountain Flyer and happily answer questions about the train and the outside scenery. Trainman Popovac provides a fact-filled narrative during the trip. His voice is heard in all coaches.

Depending on the number of passengers arriving for the Flyers foliage run, coach cars are added or subtracted. But its not unusual to have nearly 1,000 passengers on board during the summer tourism season. In the fall, passenger levels vary depending on weather. This year, peak color is hitting the Connecticut Valley in October, so the next few weekends will see brisk business on the rails.

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