Outgoing Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas (R), U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I), Congressman Peter Welch (D) and a host of national and local rail officials and advocates this week drove a golden spike along the tracks outside of the St. Albans Amtrak Station. Unlike the golden spike driven in 1869 to unite rail east and west, Vermont's spike will cost taxpayers a lot more-$70 million-and with no guarantee of a big pay off.
The spike-driving kicked off of a two-year, $70 million construction project that, officials promise, will improve track speeds along the Vermonter Passenger Rail line between St. Albans and New York City, with continuing service to Washington D.C.
The project, which received $50 million from the controversial American Recovery and Reinvestment Act "stimulus", involves installing new rail, rail ties, crossing improvements including new signals, and bridge rehabilitation along the Vermonter's 191-mile Vermont corridor. Once complete, the improvements will reduce by about 30 minutes the time it takes the Vermonter to travel through the Green Mountain State.
But is saving 30 minutes for a handful of train riders worth $70 million?
"Over the long term, this project will greatly improve our passenger rail service as it is designed to dovetail with an additional $110 million in stimulus-funded track improvements in both Massachusetts and Connecticut. Those improvements will ultimately result in a nearly 90 minutes reduction in the time it takes the Vermonter to travel from St. Albans to New York City," Governor Douglas said. "While in the short term, construction of the Vermont portion alone will generate an estimated 150,000 man-hours of labor over the next two years and provide much needed jobs to our region."
"In Vermont, our infrastructure needs an enormous amount of work. Our rail system is totally inadequate and we must move to replace our Civil War-era train lines with high-speed rail. We are making progress," Senator Sanders said. "I am pleased that we were able to secure $50 million through the federal stimulus program to improve 'The Vermonter' rail line, part of $160 million awarded to Vermont, Massachusetts and Connecticut to improve rail service between New Haven, Conn. and St. Albans, Vt. That's a good start, but much more needs to be done."