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Big bucks awarded for Amtrak rail upgrades in Vermont

Vermont will receive $50 million in taxpayer funds for major rail improvements along Amtrak's Vermonter line.

The funding will help pay for construction of track, roadbed and bridge improvements along 190 miles of railroad used by Amtrak Vermonter service between St. Albans, Vt., and Springfield, Mass., according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. The upgrade will reduce trip times and improve reliability.

The funds are part of $8 billion in high-speed-rail awards made nationwide under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. More than $55 billion in applications were submitted for the $8 billion available under the recovery bill that Congress passed last year.

This is the biggest single payment of taxpayer funds in passenger rail improvements in Vermont since Amtrak was created.

Another $500,000 of taxpayer funds was awarded for planning studies for a proposed rerouting of Amtrak's Ethan Allen Express service between Rutland and New York.The proposed rerouting will introduce service to communities that now lack intercity passenger rail service. Communities along the existing route would continue to be serviced by intercity passenger rail service. Ridership on the Ethan Allen Express has been low. It is uncertain if the infusion of taxpayer funds will increase ridership.

The upgrades will allow trains to travel up to 59 mph - and even 79 mph in some sections - cutting valuable time off the route between St. Albans and Washington, D.C. The improvements could cut an hour off of the trip through Vermont and Massachusetts.

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