It certainly was a big deal for Castleton town officials and local passenger train buffs-for the first time in nearly half a century, a popular passenger train is calling this Rutland County town home again. Amtrak's Ethan Allen Express train service to Castleton kicked off May 9 with considerable local fanfare. Over 200 local residents and state officials were on hand to welcome the Ethan Allen Express to town.
While Castleton hadn't seen a passenger train locally in more than 50 years, last weekend's start-up service was a welcome change with threats to passenger service in the Northeast due to targeted federal budget cuts.
Castleton's fans of Amtrak, despite its flagging ridership nationwide, were pleased to have a passenger train return to their community. Several local train experts have complained in recent months that state support of Vermont passenger train service is getting thumbed at, while money is being directed to area highway projects.
"I waited a long time for this," said John Chance of Hubbardton. "I'm a long-time supporter of passenger trains. It makes 100 percent sense today with high gas prices and the high cost of new automobiles."
Jimmy Sullivan of Fair Haven said, "While I'll sure miss the Amtrak stop in Fair Haven, at least the stop is close by. I take the train to go to cultural events in Albany like the State Museum and concerts."
Mary Ann Jakubowski, owner of the restored passenger depot, was thrilled to see the train return. She spoke to attendees encouraging them to use the train and support the Castleton area.
The Vermont Agency of Transportation decided to switch the Ethan Allen stop from Fair Haven to Castleton, according to officials. The passenger train travels between Rutland and Albany, N.Y. Transportation officials believe the schedule change will boost ridership, especially tourists in the Lakes Region and students from Castleton State College. The new stadium at CSC, which will open in September for college and other local athletic events, will also lure passengers to town, according to President David Wolk.
According to a recent Amtrak report, over 2,500 riders used the Ethan Allen from the Fair Haven stop in 2008. And while Fair Haven ridership had increased slightly beginning in 2004, it was a tiny percentage of the total ridership aboard the Ethan Allen.
Gov. Jim Douglas had originally been scheduled to attend the depot ceremony, however, due to a conflict, Douglas sent other administration officials to christen the new train stop.
A state official presented a young boy with a symbolic toy train to mark the inaugural service to Castleton.