Amtrak: A little history | Vermont Business Magazine (2022)

Amtrak: A little history | Vermont Business Magazine (1)

Governor Howard Dean, in green sitting next to Governor Phil Scott, listens to remarks by Amtrak CEO Stephen Gardner. VermontBiz photo.

by C.B. Hall, Vermont Business Magazine Passenger trains began serving Vermont's largest city in 1849, when rail routes were completed from White River Junction and Rutland by the rival Central Vermont and Rutland and Burlington railroads, respectively. The R&B got to Burlington first, with an inaugural departure on December 24. The CV's first train pulled out the next day – Christmas.

The R&B had its first depot near the corner of what are now Battery and Maple streets, while the CV's long-vanished route looped through the heart of what is now Burlington's downtown, with a depot on a site that currently accommodates the city's library. Via onward connections from Rutland, the R&B offered a ride to Boston for the princely sum of six dollars.

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For many decades, passenger traffic was abundant–and there was plenty of milk and butter for the freights to carry – but better roads, the advent of automobiles and trucks, and, at least for the Rutland, a succession of labor disputes began to take their toll in the first half of the 20th century.

With the once-humming passenger traffic at Burlington Union Station having withered to just three round-trip trains a day, a strike in 1953 delivered the final blow, and the Rutland jettisoned its increasingly unprofitable passenger service entirely.

The Rutland continued as a freight-only line, but ceased to operate altogether in 1961, when another strike administered the coup de gras. In 1963 the state stepped in and bought much of the abandoned railroad's track infrastructure, including the Westside Corridor, which runs from Burlington to North Bennington and on to Hoosick Junction, New York.

That same year, the Vermont Railway was established to operate traffic on the corridor under a lease from the state. In the late 1990s, the Vermont Rail System was formed as an umbrella company that today encompasses the Vermont Railway as well as other routes in New York and Vermont.

Rutland went 43 years without any passenger service, until Amtrak's Ethan Allen Express began plying its route between that city and New York City's Penn Station. The 1996 service launch reflected efforts led by Republican Senator Jim Jeffords and his aide Jeff Munger, state representative Curt McCormack (D-Rutland), and Democrat Howard Dean, then the governor.

In an interview for this article, Dean described the development of the Ethan Allen as "sort of a classic major transportation project... When we started it, it was clearly ahead of its time. These projects have such a long lead time that they have to be ahead of their time."

He dated the initiative's origins to the mid-1980s, when he and other state legislators from both major parties formed an informal coalition, the "blue shirts," who "talked a lot about future projects," Amtrak service to Rutland and Burlington, known today as the Ethan Allen Express, being one of them.

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He hastened to share credit for the Burlington service launch with several other political players.

Amtrak: A little history | Vermont Business Magazine (2)Senators Dick Mazza and Jane Kitchell get comfortable on the first passenger train to leave Burlington in 69 years. C.B. Hall photo.

"This project wouldn't have happened without Dick Mazza, because he kept it alive after I left," Dean said, referring to his 1991-2003 governorship. Mazza, a Colchester Democrat, has chaired the Senate Transportation Committee since 1991.

But, Dean added, "None of this has to do with Republican or Democrat, I think. This probably wouldn't be happening without Republican help, too."

"It's been one of my prime projects for the last 30 years," Mazza said in an interview aboard the July 29 inaugural run of the extended Ethan Allen. "Couldn't be more pleased to see it happen."

"A Bit Of A Sea Change"

The nonpartisan flavor of the project manifested itself in Jeffords, who left the Republican

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Party in 2001 to become an independent who caucused with the Democrats. When he retired in 2007, Munger stayed on at Jeffords' Washington office, with a new boss in the person of independent socialist Bernie Sanders.

Asked when the push to restore service north of Rutland began in earnest, Williston-based passenger rail advocate Carl Fowler referred to a $30 million federal earmark obtained by Jeffords in 2005 for improvements on the corridor.

"The VTrans administration of the day was in my personal opinion not terribly interested in it," Fowler said, referring to the Agency of Transportation.

The money was not immediately put to use, and in 2008, citing the $1.5 million annual state subsidy for the train, the administration of Republican governor Jim Douglas, Dean's successor, proposed replacing the Ethan Allen temporarily with a bus.

Skeptical of the "temporary" nature of the bus replacement, activists from the Vermont Rail Action Network, along with legislators and municipal officials in Rutland County, fought successfully to keep the train running.

"Jim clearly had very little interest in rail, and his transportation department didn't, either," Dean said. Douglas could not be reached for comment.

With the train preserved, Fowler said, "attitudes at VTrans underwent a bit of a sea change... Things really did start to turn around." He cited the arrival of Chris Cole and then Joe Flynn as agency's secretaries, and of Dan Delabruere, the agency's chief rail officer, as giving the Ethan Allen project impetus.

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More money began to flow into the effort, and over the ensuing dozen years the corridor was upgraded to allow passenger trains to chug along at 59 mph in open country. Bridges were improved and sidings were installed where freight trains can wait, or unused freight cars can be stored, while passenger trains go by.

In 2017 the Vergennes station, built about 1851, was moved a quarter-mile north from its original location to a park-and-ride facility just over the city line in Ferrisburgh, where the Italianate structure has since been attractively restored.

That station entered history in 1859, when John Brown's a-moldering body, accompanied by his widow, arrived by train from the South shortly after he was hanged for his raid on the federal arsenal in Harpers Ferry, Virginia.

According to Vermont Civil War historian Howard Coffin, quite a crowd made its way to the depot. Some used pocketknives to chip off bits of the box containing the abolitionist's casket as mementos before it continued on its way across Lake Champlain to its final resting place in North Elba, New York.

Burlington Union Station has a history to boast of, too. After seven years of planning and construction, it opened to the public in 1916. Architect Alfred Fellheimer, who had been the lead architect for Manhattan's Grand Central Terminal, gave the Burlington station a symmetrical Beaux Arts look, and the Burlington Daily Free Press touted his creation as "probably the finest railroad station in northern New England.”

The structure served the traveling public until the demise of the Rutland's passenger service in 1953. Green Mountain Power purchased the building in 1955, and in 1985 sold it to the Alden Waterfront Company as part of a planned waterfront redevelopment.

Alden became Main Street Landing, which actively promoted the return of the passenger service to the city, among other things by building the ticket counter that will serve Amtrak patrons henceforward. MSL continues to own the property except for part of its ground floor, which the development company sold in 2016 to the Vermont Agency of Transportation as a station facility for the Ethan Allen.

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Today, while the three passenger tracks of the station's heyday are but a memory, the station anchors a lively waterfront that attracts tourists and locals alike to the city's main bicycle path, parks, and Echo, the Leahy Center for Lake Champlain, as well as the inspiring company of the lake itself.

Melinda Moulton, MSL's former CEO, called the work leading up to the July 29 restoration of Burlington service "a long slog. For 35 years Main Street Landing has envisioned this return of passenger rail to the west side of Vermont, and has worked diligently and patiently for this exciting day, to see this vision and this dream come true, of rail service as a sustainable transportation mode and a boon for the city of Burlington."

FAQs

What is the oldest Amtrak train? ›

The first train operated by the new company is a Clocker that departs New York City for Philadelphia shortly after midnight. May 10 – Trains 68/69, later known as the Lake Shore (New York-Chicago), became the first service added to the Amtrak Basic System.

What was Amtrak called before? ›

The original working brand name for NRPC was Railpax, but less than two weeks before operations began, the official marketing name was changed to Amtrak. There were several key provisions: Any railroad operating intercity passenger service could contract with the NRPC, thereby joining the national system.

What is Amtrak's motto? ›

A Look at the Taglines You Loved

As the saying goes, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” When looking at Amtrak's advertising campaigns over the past 50 years, that phrase has never been truer.

Who owns the tracks that Amtrak runs on? ›

Of the more than 22,000 miles on which it operates, Amtrak owns approximately 620 miles in the Northeast and Michigan. Some of the remaining miles are owned by states or regional transportation authorities, but the vast majority are owned by freight railroads.

Is Amtrak still losing money? ›

What a difference two years makes. In fiscal 2019, Amtrak only lost $29 million on operations, and the budget estimates submitted to Congress in March 2020 predicted a break-even that year, followed by small but steady operating profits through 2025.

When was the last time Amtrak made a profit? ›

Amtrak, meanwhile, was created in 1971 after Congress passed a bill to take money-losing passenger services off the hands of private railroads. While technically a private company, it has never been a profitable enterprise.

How fast do Amtrak trains go? ›

Most Amtrak trains travel between 110 mph to 145 mph in the corridor, depending on the track and proximity to stations.

Are Amtrak workers federal employees? ›

No they are not Federal employees Amtrak is a for profit business that receives Federal and State subsidies.

Is Amtrak making a profit? ›

Amtrak is a state-owned enterprise. This means that Amtrak is a for-profit company, but that the federal government owns all its preferred stock. Amtrak made $2.4 billion in 2020.

How often do Amtrak employees get paid? ›

Pay is Bi-weekly.

How much does the CEO of Amtrak make? ›

The highest paid Amtrak employee in 2021 was then-CEO William Flynn, who had a base salary of $475,000, according to the data.

Is Amtrak becoming more popular? ›

Last spring, Amtrak's ridership was up 86 percent over the same period in 2020—and it's now around 65 percent of 2019 ridership levels. “We are seeing a ton of new customers,” says Roger Harris, Amtrak's executive vice president and chief marketing officer.

Why does Amtrak always run late? ›

Waiting for freight trains is the largest cause of delay to passengers. Freight train interference — a dispatching decision made by a freight railroad to delay an Amtrak passenger train so that their freight trains can operate first — caused 900,000 minutes of delay in 2021.

What is the busiest railroad in the US? ›

List
RankSystemAverage Weekday Ridership (Q4 2019)
1MTA Long Island Rail Road385,400
2NJ Transit Rail241,972
3MTA Metro-North Railroad311,800
4Metra274,000
29 more rows

Does Amtrak pay to use tracks? ›

Every year Amtrak pays host railroads $142 million for using their tracks and other resources needed to operate Amtrak trains.

Do Amtrak employees get railroad retirement? ›

Federal law provides that railroad employees pay taxes under the Railroad Retirement Tax Act (RRTA) rather than the Social Security Act, providing you with a higher retirement benefit.

Is Amtrak cheaper than flying? ›

Train travel is often cheaper than flying, in part because you can generally take more with you before paying extra baggage fees. It can also be more convenient and relaxing than driving, especially if you'd be driving in an unfamiliar place or driving for many hours nonstop to get to your destination.

Why do Amtrak trains lose power? ›

A train may lose power when going through a switch or crossing another track because the car lost contact with that power rail. The power will return as soon as that car passes through that area.

Can you sue Amtrak? ›

In The Event of a Crash, Can You Sue Amtrak? Short answer: no. An arbitration clause placed onto tickets in January 2019 forces disputes into arbitration, without the ability to go before a judge or jury.

What is the best railroad stock to buy? ›

TRN, CNI, and CP are top for value, growth, and momentum, respectively. Nathan Reiff has been writing expert articles and news about financial topics such as investing and trading, cryptocurrency, ETFs, and alternative investments on Investopedia since 2016.

Is Amtrak the only passenger train service in the US? ›

Narrator: Amtrak is the only passenger railroad service that operates throughout the continental US. With about 500 destinations, the service has been operating since 1971.

Do hobos still ride trains? ›

It continued to be widely used by those unable to afford other transportation, especially during times of widespread economic dislocation such as the Great Depression. For a variety of reasons the practice is less common today, although a community of freight-train riders still exists.

Do trains go faster at night? ›

Trains do not run faster at night, but sometimes night trains don't make as many stops at smaller cities and there's less interference from other services so they can complete a route in a bit less time.

How do trains not tip over? ›

Dr. Shayak found the reason these trains never tip is also because of their conical wheels. The conical wheels' shape, every time the train tips, the amount that it tips acts to restore the train upright. This force, called a restoring force, is stronger when the train is heavier meaning heavier trains are more stable.

Can you keep Amtrak blankets? ›

Room attendants no longer fully make up your bed but leave the blanket sealed in a plastic bag. Trains says it is to assure passengers that the blankets are unused.

Can Amtrak employees ride Acela for free? ›

We are not permitted to ride any long distance train without a ticket. We usually end up having to pay 80% of the coach and sleeper fare on long distance trains. This usually ends up costing me more then Jetblue or Continental tickets so when I go on vacation (Sarasota FL or San Diego CA) I fly.

Does AARP Offer Amtrak discounts? ›

Standard Amtrak Discounts (Students, Seniors, etc.)

Seniors: Travelers 65+ receive a 10% discount (excludes Auto Train). There is no additional AARP discount. Military: 10% discount for military personnel plus their spouses and dependents.

Is Amtrak going on strike? ›

Amtrak Won't Go On Strike But Is Negatively Impacted

Thankfully, Amtrak engineers and conductors operate under a separate agreement that's not subject to this strike.

Is Amtrak self sufficient? ›

In 1997, Congress passed the Amtrak Reform and Accountability Act, which mandated the railroad achieve operational self-sufficiency within five years.

Who owns trains in USA? ›

national railways, rail transportation services owned and operated by national governments. U.S. railways are privately owned and operated, though the Consolidated Rail Corporation was established by the federal government and Amtrak uses public funds to subsidize privately owned intercity passenger trains.

How old are the Amtrak trains? ›

We have a storied 42-year history as America's Railroad and we first pulled out of the station way back on May 1, 1971. Amtrak was originally established by the Congressional Rail Passenger Service Act, which consolidated the U.S.'s existing 20 passenger railroads into one.

What is the oldest train in the world? ›

Puffing Billy is the world's oldest surviving steam locomotive, constructed in 1813–1814 by colliery viewer William Hedley, enginewright Jonathan Forster and blacksmith Timothy Hackworth for Christopher Blackett, the owner of Wylam Colliery near Newcastle upon Tyne, in the United Kingdom.

What is the oldest train station in America? ›

The Baltimore and Ohio Ellicott City Station Museum in Ellicott City, Maryland, is the oldest remaining passenger train station in the United States, and one of the oldest in the world.

What is the oldest train station in the world? ›

Liverpool Road Station, Manchester, England, is the world's oldest station. It was first used on September 15, 1830 and was finally closed on September 30, 1975. Part of the original station is now a museum.

Why does Amtrak stop so much? ›

Historically, the biggest cause of delay is freight trains obstructing passenger trains. Because Amtrak operates mostly on tracks owned by other railroads, its on-time performance is dependent on freight railroads, which are required to give passenger trains preference over other rail traffic.

How often do Amtrak employees get paid? ›

Pay is Bi-weekly.

Are Amtrak trains bumpy? ›

Both train rides felt bumpy the whole time.

I found both trips as bumpy as a flight while the seat-belt sign is on from start to finish. Had I known this before my trip, I might have packed some medicine to prevent motion sickness.

What does Puffing Billy mean? ›

/ˌpʌfɪŋ ˈbɪli/ /ˌpʌfɪŋ ˈbɪli/ ​the name of one of the earliest British steam trains, first used in 1813 and now kept in the Science Museum, London.

What is the biggest train station in the world? ›

Japan's Nagoya Station is the world's largest station in terms of floor area, which according to some sources stands at an astonishing 446,000m². It is the headquarters of the Central Japan Railway Company (JR Central), which has two towers that run atop of the station.

Do trains still run on coal? ›

After decades of dominance, coal fired locomotives were slowly phased out and replaced with safer and more modern diesel and electric engines. Now, the last mainline steam locomotive has finally been phased out.

What railroad Does Bill Gates Own? ›

Bill Gates sold about $940 million of Canadian National Railway Co. shares, trimming one of the largest holdings of the investment firm that controls his $117 billion personal fortune.

Who is the largest railroad company in US? ›

Largest American Rail Companies
  • Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Company (BNSF) 2021 Revenue: $23.3 billion. ...
  • Union Pacific. 2021 Revenue: $21.804 billion. ...
  • CSX. 2021 Revenue: $12.522 billion. ...
  • Norfolk Southern Railway. 2021 Revenue: $11.1 billion. ...
  • Kansas City Southern. 2021 Revenue: $3 billion. ...
  • Amtrak.
18 Jul 2022

Who was the biggest railroad Tycoon? ›

Contents. Shipping and railroad tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794-1877) was a self-made multi-millionaire who became one of the wealthiest Americans of the 19th century.

Where do trains go when not in use? ›

A rail yard, railway yard, railroad yard (US) or simply yard, is a series of tracks in a rail network for storing, sorting, or loading and unloading rail vehicles and locomotives.

What train station has the most platforms in the world? ›

The world's station with most platforms is Grand Central Terminal in New York City with 44 platforms.

Where is the world's oldest surviving train station? ›

The Liverpool Road railway station in Manchester, dating from 1830, is the oldest surviving mainline station in the world.

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