More issues arise with VTrans’ big rail plans

Safety, service, infrastructure, policy and budgetary issues of the 2015 Vermont State Rail Plan draft have towns delving into the reality of VTrans new strategies through Chittenden County towns. Photo taken on Ferry Road in Charlotte in July. Photo by Lynn Monty
Safety, service, infrastructure, policy and budgetary issues of the 2015 Vermont State Rail Plan draft have towns delving into the reality of VTrans new strategies through Chittenden County towns. Photo taken on Ferry Road in Charlotte in July. Photo by Lynn Monty

The town of Shelburne weighed in on the 2015 Vermont State Rail Plan draft with a letter approved at the Sept. 8 Selectboard meeting. The document came just in time for the Sept. 15 deadline for comments from the public on the draft plan, which is getting its first update since 2006.

Town Planner Dean Pierce presented a draft of the letter during the Selectboard meeting. It was a culmination of resident feedback. It addressed areas of safety, service, infrastructure, policy and budgetary issues, and planning.

The letter states there are insufficient details about training, priorities, frequency, adequacy, budget, and assessments of ability to handle disasters in the plan and that it needs to be modified.

The Town of Charlotte also submitted comments to the State’s Draft Rail Plan to the Vermont Agency of Transportation in a letter. Charlotte Volunteer Fire Department Chief Chris Davis drafted a two page summary on the subject for fire chiefs and emergency planners in the state.

“I believe that any town in Vermont that has rail line running through it might want to take a closer look at the Draft Rail Plan,” Davis said.

Davis said his Charlotte community is not anti-rail. “We realize that the rail system offers many advantages to our society and to our economy,” he said. “The rail system also offers an environmentally-friendly alternative to road travel and transportation, and can reduce traffic congestion and related pollution.”

Although Davis is not anti-rail, he is definitely pro-safety. The goals section of the Rail Plan on page VI lists Enhanced Safety of the Rail System as the last of the seven goals, Davis said. “We feel this should be the first goal, not the last, given the investment that Vermont taxpayers will be asked to make if the Draft Rail Plan becomes reality,” he said.

Shelburne’s letter to VTrans about the draft rail plan also expressed concerns regarding the planned growth in expenditures, and lack of consideration given to potential cost implications, as well as environmental, social, and health impacts on local communities.

Shelburne Selectboard members were supportive of initiating service between Burlington and Rutland, which would provide access to Albany and New York City, and that a stop should be included at the existing rail station in Shelburne on the Burlington-to-Rutland and Rutland-to-Burlington Amtrak line.

How feedback from towns across the state influence the plan remains to be seen, Shelburne Selectboard member Toni Supple said. “This is our one chance to influence decision makers.”

VTrans and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation have teamed up to present the findings of a study called the Northern New England Intercity Rail Initiative. The study examined the potential to expand passenger rail service to serve large and small communities along a 470-mile corridor across New England, Quebec, and New York.

The study team developed a plan for increasing services along the corridor to meet passenger demand over the next 20 years. A public meeting on the subject will be held at 7pm at Hotel Coolidge, 39 South Main Street in White River Junction on Thursday, Sept. 24, at 7 p.m.

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