VT commits to extending Ethan Allen to Burlington by 2017

Discussion in 'Amtrak Rail Discussion' started by afigg, Oct 26, 2012.

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  1. Oct 26, 2012 #1

    afigg

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    The link to this local news article was posted on several other rail forums yesterday, but I don't see the news here, so here goes. The gist of the story is that the state of Vermont is committed to extending the Ethan Allen northward to Burlington by 2017, regardless of whether they can get federal funding for the rest of the track and bridge upgrades that are needed. I think the writer of the article was not aware of the prospects of $20 million in federal funding from the Senator Jefford's earmark which has been on the books for some years. With $6 million allocated in the state budget, Vermont may have a large percentage in place for the estimated $35 to $45 million cost to upgrade the 68 miles of tracks and the right of way.

    I would venture that Middlebury College would be willing to contribute funds for a Middlebury train station, because a train service to Albany, NYC, and the NEC would be a huge boon to the college.

    Excerpts from the article:

     
  2. Oct 26, 2012 #2

    CHamilton

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    That's excellent news. It's good to hear something semi-official, even though we know it's been talked about for some time. I spent my high school years in Burlington, and look forward to getting there by train.
     
  3. Oct 26, 2012 #3

    MattW

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    Would there be any benefit to extending the Ethan Allen past Burlington on towards St. Albans and terminating at the same place as the Vermonter? Admittedly, there wouldn't seem to be much if any scheduling advantage, but maybe a consolidation of terminal services involved in turning the train?
     
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  4. Oct 26, 2012 #4

    CHamilton

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    IIRC, the tracks from downtown Burlington toward Essex Junction, where the Vermonter passes on its way to St. Albans, aren't there any more. One such track was in the back yard of the house I lived in in my high-school days, but it's been turned into a trail. Even if it had been rail-banked, there would be a huge outcry from NIMBYs in the area, since no trains have gone that way for probably 75 years. My knowledge is out of date, so please correct me if I'm wrong.
     
  5. Oct 26, 2012 #5

    MattW

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    I don't know, I just went through Google Earth and I saw rails and ties still in place from Burlington through the Essex Junction wye. The imagery was taken on May 19, 2012. I'll of course defer to anyone with more recent ground-truth.
     
  6. Oct 26, 2012 #6

    Swadian Hardcore

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  7. Oct 26, 2012 #7

    Anderson

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    I wonder what the timing, etc. would be on this. There's a part of me wondering what the track setup is at Essex Jct.
     
  8. Oct 26, 2012 #8

    The Davy Crockett

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    By timing, I'm assuming you mean the schedule. Actually, other than Fridays, when the Ethan Allen would leave Rutland for Burlington at 11:13PM, the existing schedule could work, as NB 291 would depart Rutland at 8:48PM, Sa-Th, and the M-F SB 290 is scheduled to depart Rutland at 8:00AM, with a Sat Dep. of 11:00AM and a Sun Dep of 5:05PM. While it would likely mean a 5:30-6:00AM Dep from Burlington for 290, but that is no worse than the NB Dep time of the new NFK service. :)
     
  9. Oct 26, 2012 #9

    afigg

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    Several Vermont rail maps, including the one Swadian found, show an active NECR line from Essex Jct to the Vermont Rail System line at Burlington. Whether it is in acceptable condition or something that is occasionally used for equipment moves at 10 mph speeds or is active but hasn't been used in years, not a clue. I also don't know if VTrans is looking to run the Ethan Allen to Essex Jct or planning to terminate it at Burlington and store it there overnight. Extending the Ethan Allen to St. Albans would be a rather long move if there is storage at Burlington.

    If the projected date is 2017, the odds are good that the Vermonter will be running to Montreal by then. With an early AM departure from MTR and a 9-10PM ish arrival in MTR. Southbound the Vermonter would arrive at ESX at 9+ AM. Would there be a market for having the Ethan Allen depart ESX - if there is space, connector tracks, etc - after the southbound Vermonter and arriving at ESX before the northbound Vermonter to provide connections from Middlebury & Rutland for trips to MTR? My guess is that while there would be some interest in it, it would mean a mid to late morning start for the Ethan Allen from ESX. Which on weekdays would put the Ethan Allen into NYP late in the day.

    If the goal of the Ethan Allen is to provide direct service from Burlington-Rutland to NYC & connecting trains at NYP, then it should start from Burlington 7 to 8 AM on weekdays. The additional 68 miles with a max speed of 60 mph will likely add 90 minutes to the Ethan Allen schedule. Could have a bus service provide connections from Middlebury and downtown Burlington to the Vermonter at ESX for trips to MTR.

    In the long term, the Ethan Allen should be a candidate for twice a day service if ridership grows enough to support it.
     
  10. Oct 26, 2012 #10

    The Davy Crockett

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    That is the 35-45 million dollar question. What will operating tracks speeds be? Obviously the faster, the more $$$. So it will be a question of speed vs. available cash.

    OTOH, Google maps, which I've found to be on the slow side under non-busy, dry road conditions, says it will take 1 hour, 46 minutes to drive the 66.8 miles between Burlington and Rutland, and 290's schedule claims it takes 1 hour, 37 minutes to go the 63 miles between Rutland and Saratoga Springs.
     
  11. Oct 26, 2012 #11

    afigg

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    The #290 Ethan Allen used to take 2 hours, 3 minutes from Rutland to Saratoga Springs before the track work in 2011. IIRC, the news reports were there was one remaining slow 5 mile segment with jointed rail on the VRS tracks to Rutland that was on the future fix list when funding could be found. So the 1:37 segment could be sped up, especially if NY state directs additional funds for upgrades to the CP tracks for the Adirondack service.

    There is a cost study from several years ago for upgrading the Rutland-Burlington tracks to Class III 60 mph. How many stops would there be between Rutland and Burlington besides Middlebury? Probably 1 or 2 more. So 90 minutes for an extension to Burlington is probably too optimistic; maybe 100 minutes would be a better placeholder for schedule ideas. Because the Ethan Allen would be competing against a state road, not a separated 65-70 mph highway, a 60 mph max speed could be quite competitive to in-state driving times.
     
  12. Oct 26, 2012 #12

    jis

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    A quick look through Google satellite images suggest that the track from Burlington to Essex Jct is all in place and well ballasted except for a short segment in the vicinity of Burlington yard. There is a Wye at Essex Jct, just south of the Amtrak station where this line connects to the Vermonter route. It looks suspiciously like Burlington Yard is actually served out of Essex Jct.
     
  13. Oct 27, 2012 #13

    transit54

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    The line between Essex and Burlington is indeed active - I'm actually looking at it from my window right now!

    It sees about 1-2 trains on an average weekday - a wood chip train from Swanton that services the McNeil generating station and a train that brings interchange traffic to the Vermont Rail System railyard in downtown (I believe this originates at the NECR railyard in St Albans). The track is not in great shape and I believe it is currently in "excepted" status, meaning that a passenger train could not currently operate on it. There is a tunnel under North Ave which was rehabbed in the not too distance past by

    However, it's not a terribly long line, so it could be brought up to speed if needed. However, I see no benefit to sending the train to St Albans - St Albans generates very little of the Vermonter's ridership, so it wouldn't cover the extra cost. I wouldn't be surprised if it is actually cheaper to overnight the train in Burlington with the VRS. The only way I could imagine it being justifiable is if the train were to continue on to Montreal. Keep in mind, the VRS has a 99 year lease on the tracks from the State, but they are truly State owned, so the State has a degree of leverage with the VRS when getting favorable terms to make this all work.

    I think the announcement is great news - I've known of the general plan for some time, but it's nice to hear that there's a date for completion. I was trying to make it down there for the event, but I just didn't manage to find the time.

    The speed will need be 59 MPH on the Rutland - Burlington segment. The speed limit on Route 7 (which parallels the rail route) is 50 MPH, so this is actually car competitive, especially considering there are many lower speed sections where the road passes through towns. I can't drive to Rutland in much less than 90 minutes and that's doing 5-8 MPH over the limit most of the way.
     
  14. Oct 27, 2012 #14

    CHamilton

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    Thanks so much for the clarification. I guess I was thinking of the line that goes through the North End of Burlington, which I believe no longer has tracks. That one is unlikely ever to see trains again, having been abandoned in 1961 or 2 (depending on which source you read).
     
  15. Oct 27, 2012 #15

    Anderson

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    I see four potential benefits to extending the train to either St. Albans, or at least to Essex Jct:

    1) Consolidating operations on turning. Basically, not having to put crews up in two separate locations so close to one another. I'm not sure what the benefit would be, but I'm guessing it would be greater than zero.

    2) Enabling a transfer from an Ethan Allen to a Vermonter bound to Montreal. This falls under "network effect" in that it allows a number of rides with a transfer (and considering the short run, this might make at least some sense).

    3) Potentially just running the Ethan Allen through. This may sound silly, but bear with me: The Vermonter currently takes 7:30 NYP-Essex Junction. The Ethan Allen takes 5:35 NYP-Rutland. Adding 90 minutes to that is 7:05, adding another 30 minutes over the dubious track would get you to 7:35...basically the same amount of time. Figure 2:00 Essex Junction-Montreal (I've seen estimates of 90 minutes MTR-SAB, and SB the Vemonter takes 30 minutes SAB-Essex), and that's 9:35. Basically, the second routing would be potentially time-competitive with the Vermonter at the moment, though not with the Adirondack directly. This only really makes sense if you're already running the Vermonter to MTR, at which point you'd have three crew bases consolidated.

    4) Running a "loop" train. A train turning south at Essex could do "double duty" in being both a second Vermonter (as far as Essex) and a second Ethan Allen. The train could rest at either NYP or Essex, but you could get two trains out of one set here. The Ethan Allen could in theory do that, but I'm not sure if there's quite enough room to do a restock-and-turn in the schedule on all days, and I would be genuinely shocked if you'd be able to pull a turn on all days with the extension.

    Just wondering, but are there any plans in the works to improve the track from Fort Edward-Rutland? That section takes about 75-80 minutes for 44 miles of track. I'd think getting that under 60 minutes would be a nice goal alongside improvements between SDY and there (which would help the Adirondack).
     
  16. Oct 27, 2012 #16

    transit54

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    The only benefits that I can think of would be a reduction in cost for cleaning/servicing crews for the train. And the cost of overnight lodging for the crew is probably less than Burlington. However, keep in mind that one the MTR link comes online, there won't be a train in SAB overnight, eliminating any benefits. This will happen around the same time (2017), IIRC.

    Potentially, yes. However I think the larger focus will be varying the timing between the two trains to stagger them for the Burlington area. That way there is, in essence, two arrivals and departures at different times to choose from. A cheaper way to offer the connection is just run a bus bridge between the two stations. This would also allow passengers to spend more of their time at Burlington Union Station (a much, much nicer facility than what is in Essex Jct), there's also plenty to do and eat in the vicinity of the Burlington station.

    Both really interesting concepts. I could certainly see one of those happening, but as sort of another phase of rail improvements after the extension work is done. I think initially it will terminate in Burlington.

    They did work on this segment earlier this year, and I do believe there are plans to do more. I can't think of the specifics off the top of my head, but it is absolutely on the State's radar.
     
  17. Oct 27, 2012 #17

    transit54

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    Yes, that has become the much beloved Waterfront Bike Path/Island Line trail. I really doubt that would ever come back. At this point it just makes much more sense to run everything over the NECR.
     
  18. Oct 27, 2012 #18

    afigg

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    The current Vermonter NYP-ESX trip time is around 9:24 (faster northbound). Were you thinking what the projected trip time would be after the improvements in VT, MA, CT? Which would get to around 7:45, baring additional improvements such as upgrades to 79 mph speeds north of White River Jct.

    With the track and signal upgrades between Poughkeepsie - Schenectady and the 2nd track bypass at Ballston Spa, the Ethan Allen should get some trip time improvement in the next several years. The extension to Burlington cost esimates may include more track replacement to the Vermont Rail tracks from Rutland to the CP connection. We can only make guess estimates as to the trip time from Rutland if the Ethan Allen were to be extended all the way to Essex Jct. Even if it is a slow segment from Burlington to ESX, the Ethan Allen should be faster to NYP from ESX than the Vermonter route as it is a more direct route. But trying to have the Ethan Allen connect to the Vermonter at ESX really messes up the schedule flexibility for the Ethan Allen.

    As for improvements on the CP tracks north of Schenectady, I've mentioned before in an Adirondack thread that one of the applications NY state submitted for the HSIPR grants was for $23 million for track and signal upgrades to 79 mph Class IV tracks from SDY to Whitehall and Plattsburgh to Rouses Point. The application included building a side track for a customs facility at Rouses Point, so a upgrade to 79 mph for SDY to Whitehall should be markedly less than $23 million.

    What should be noted about these 2 trains is that they should see some of largest trip time reductions among all the current Amtrak trains, mostly because of the HSIPR projects in other states: NY, MA, CT which are looking to improve service in their own states.
     
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  19. Oct 27, 2012 #19
    I have definitely seen versions of the plans which would continue from Burlington to Essex Junction, and the route is at least railbanked if not reinstated.

    The catch is that the tracks approach the wrong way to continue to Montreal. The trains would probably terminate at Essex Junction and ask people to change trains to continue to Montreal, at least in all the proposals I've seen so far.

    The current plans have the Vermonter extended to Montreal *before* 2017. If the preclearance platform is actually built at Montreal, only one train can be present at a time (under current plans). The Vermonter and Adirondack's schedules can be kept far enough away from each other to do this, but I'm not sure the Ethan Allen could *also* be kept far enough away from *both* of the other trains.
     
  20. Oct 27, 2012 #20

    MattW

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    Actually, it appears from Google imagery that there is a western leg to the Essex Junction wye that if not serviceable has at least not been encroached on could be used to send trains from Burlington to Essex Junction station or Montreal.
     
  21. Oct 27, 2012 #21

    Anderson

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    It hit me while I was out this evening, but a big advantage of consolidating all three trains to MTR is that Amtrak might be able to get a commissary running at MTR. Granted, this would have issues with all of the horse manure that you get with food inspections there (California's inspections make more sense than the ones at the US/CA border when you get down to it), this would relieve a lot of the food-runs-out issues on the Adirondack at peak season (where the "entree" [salad/sandwich] selection on the way back can get pretty thin while you're still passing Lake Champlain). A commissary for one train makes no sense, I would agree, but for 3-4 trains it does.

    And yes, I agree that these are definitely "next stage" ideas. In this vein, I'm also wondering how much time improvement you can get on the Vermont routes. I know we're getting mentions of 7:45 on the Vermonter in this thread, and 8:00 or so on the Adirondack when Alan and I talked on the Adirondack back in August. If I get an idea of what timetable goals exist, I can also get an idea of what can be done with the MTR facility and timing spacing. Frankly, though, if you get a train in from BOS in addition to the other two, there's a respectable chance that you'll need a larger facility no matter what.
     
  22. Oct 27, 2012 #22

    jis

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    I think that is solving a non-existent problem. The crews just turn if necessary and tie up the train and go off to their hotel. I have actually shared a taxi with them once at St. Albans, when I was the only arriving passenger on the train! Next morning they come back using that same apparently one taxi in St. Albans and get the train ready to go. Not much servicing of the train other than that.

    That could be a legitimate positive.

    None of those trains have a "crew base" at the out station, and don't have any reason to have a crew base, so there are no crew bases to consolidate.

    Also remember that at Montreal no two trains can arrive or depart within one hour of each other since there will be only a single platform with C&I facility

    BTW, when the Montrealer ran it was given 2hrs MTR to SAB. To get to 90mins will require significant - very significant track improvement in Canada and VT.

    I doubt that I will see two trains from VT run to Montreal. Remember one of the catches in extending the Vermonter to Montreal which is yet to be resolved is the exorbitant charge that CN proposes to impose on it, including possibly requiring CN crew to handle the train from SAB to MTR. Since it will be a new operation it is not covered by the agreement that covers the Adirondack.

    A not insurmountable fly in the ointment of that plan is that said loop train will not be able to stop at Essex Jct. station without a backup move or without reversing direction there, since it is north of the wye.

    The problem is mostly the track between Whitehall Jct (which is south of Whitehall station) and Rutland, which the Ethan Allen does not share with the Adirondack.
     
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  23. Oct 27, 2012 #23

    jis

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    Surely you jest. Amtrak saw it fit to decommission food service and the commissary in Albany even with 8 trains per day, and you think they will open a commissary in a different country for three trains? As I alluded to earlier none of these trains will be in the black for various reasons in a long long time, if ever, so it is unlikely that an expensive commissary operation will be spun up for them, when a much closer to black NYP - ALB service does not have a commissary in Albany. The commissary solution might just be adding baggage cars and putting two refrigerated storage units in them and carry extra stock from the New York Commissary, if it comes to that.

    I have heard a goal of 8 for the Adirondack, but that is many moons away, and it also involved moving the train to the much faster CP between Rouses Point and Montreal, which now appears to be dead. So maybe it is closer to 8:30 to 9 now, since the CN route which meanders through people's back yards, figuratively speaking will not likely ever be as fast as the CP route.

    BTW, one intriguing idea that has been floated around is to run an overnight train NYP to MTR via Rutland, Burlington timed so as to depart Burlington in the morning and get into MTR before noon and depart MTR in the evening getting through Burlington late evening and Rutland around midnight. It can dither around Albany for a while to arrive (and depart) NYP at a reasonable hour. Of course it will carry Sleepers and even spring for a Cardinal style Diner/Lounge perhaps. This would make a day trip possible from Rutland and Burlington to MTR, as well as a convenient overnighter from New York. OTOH it misses the Ski crowd from MTR if there is such.

    Then the Vermonter can pretty much run on its current schedule but to Burlington instead of to SAB, where hardly anyone goes to anyway. Naturally the overnight train would probably have to be in addition to a daytime Ethan Allen. Thought I'd throw this into the pot since we are brainstorming ideas.
     
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  24. Oct 27, 2012 #24

    transit54

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    This would be an absolutely wonderful service, but I really doubt that it would see the light of day in the next 10 years or so. And NYP-MTR just seems to be a little short for an overnight run. I think you'd really have to do WAS-MTR to make it worthwhile. I also cannot imagine this existing without a MTR-NYP day trip option via VT.

    I don't think there's a huge ski crowd from MTR. Jay Peak is very popular with Canadians and St Albans is the closest stop to there. But they'd just as soon take a day trip into St Albans. It's still quite a haul from St Albans.
     
  25. Oct 27, 2012 #25

    Anderson

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    On the one hand, I didn't jest on the commissary front. On the other hand, I would counter that with the NYP-ALB only trains not having food service (and NYP-ALB-NYP not likely being a long enough run not to be workable on a single food order out of NYP), and with the others only potentially being topped up for the last two hours of a run, a commissary at ALB would be somewhat redundant. On the other hand, one at Buffalo would actually make sense, even with "only" four trains.

    With that said, I like the "fridge car" idea, and indeed that idea would probably be a good one for more than a few of the longer trains out there.

    I do really like the idea of running an overnight train NYP-MTR via Rutland...but that really falls back to liking the idea of an overnight train NYP-MTR whatever the route.
     
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