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Middlebury RR spur is wasteful

Roses are red, violets are blue. Railroads are good, trucks are bad, or so our betters-that is Vermont government officials, railroad operators, and some environmentalists-tell us.

The latest rail idea to grip the Green Mountain State, aside from perennial passenger train fantasies, is the costly, proposed 3.3-mile-long Otter Creek rail spur in Middlebury. If built, it will be the first major new railroad in Vermont in almost 100 years. In this case, it's not worth celebrating.

As part of the Middlebury spur plan, public/private Vermont Railway has created another public/private creature, called the Otter Creek Railroad. But don't think this railroad project will ever chug along on it's own two rails without some level of public help.

Most railroads have been unprofitable to operate in the U.S. since the 1960s. Thus, many operators, like Vermont Railway, need to feed regularly at the public trough in order to sustain their rail dreams.

Starting in spring 2013, Vermont Railway will build its new spur for Omya Industries, Inc., a foreign-owned private corporation.

The Otter Creek Railway project-extending from Omya's giant Middlebury marble pit on Foote Street, then across U.S. Route 7, and slicing through Halladay Road (an agricultural-residential neighborhood)-will be used to trundle ore from the quarry to Vermont Railway's main line near Otter Creek. From there, the rock will be hauled to Omya's Florence processing plant.

This exceedingly costly, $30-34 million project (possibly costing as high as $42 million, according to one Agency of Transportation inflation estimate) is a needless public/private expense. To sell the plan to the public side, officials have claimed that it as the best "green" alternative to Omya's current use of big truck rigs. The trucks haul the stuff down U.S. Route 7 to the Florence plant.

Of course the loudest complainers about Omya trucks have been Brandon-area merchants and residents who don't like the big trucks rumbling through their back yards. Instead, I suppose, they'd rather have the residents of Middlebury deal with the increased noise (rumbling trains several times a day) and pollution (diesel locomotive fumes aren't pretty) that will be a part of this rail spur in their back yards? And don't think the rail spur will eliminate big trucks on Route 7: Omya has never promised it will stop using trucks. So, has the State of Vermont really solved anything here?

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