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Officials meet for high-speed rail plan

RUTLAND-U.S. Rep. Peter Welch (D)and Gov. Peter Shumlin (D)were in downtown Rutland March 28 to welcome the nation's top rail official. The Vermont delegation hosted the top-level meeting at the Franklin Conference Center in the Howe Center.

The effort was a public display of support for the so-called Western Corridor High-Speed Rail project and organized by the two Vermont Democrats. This multi-million dollar project, if it is built, will be funded entirely by U.S. taxpayer funds.

Joining Welch and Shumlin in Rutland was Deputy Administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration Karen Rae. She is responsible for managing the Obama administration's national rail policy.

Preliminary to the event at Rutland's Amtrak station and railyard was a discussion by Welch, Shumlin and Rae regarding Vermont's securing the federal dollars needed for the new rail line that would run from Bennington to Burlington.

Welch has spoken out in favor of the pricey project since it was first proposed by President Obama. He was responsible for inviting Rae to visit Rutland and meeting a group of enthusiastic local rail supporters downtown.

After the meeting, Rae joined Welch and Shumlin to visit Westminster Cracker. The Rutland business has become somewhat of a local poster child for rail use in Vermont.

Omya officials also met Rae. Omya, which operates marble quarries and a processing plant in Vermont, is a heavy user of freight rail. It also hopes to be the prime user of a controversial $34 million, 3.3-mile-long rail spur that is being planned for Middlebury by Vermont Railway. Taxpayers will also be tapped to build this rail line.

Critics have called Amtrak "Nostalgia Limited" saying it is not in the public interest to fund passenger rail. Amtrak, the nation's government-owned passenger train provider, has been been losing $32 per passenger since the mid 2000s.

According to a study by Subsidyscope of the Pew Trust, 41 of Amtrak's 44 passenger routes lose money annually. The rail service requires large taxpayer subsidies to cover its operating costs.

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