New Amtrak passenger train arrives in Middlebury in July, raising need for rail safety awareness

From July, Middlebury will begin to receive service as a station on Amtrak’s Ethan Allen Express train line, for the first time since passenger rail service ceased operating in the area in 1953. The service, from Penn Station in Manhattan, now includes Vergennes and Burlington after stopping at Rutland for over 20 years. Although the timetable has not been finalized, a round trip – approximately seven and a half hours each way – will operate seven days a week between Middlebury and Penn Station. While the official start of the service is months away, the train has already been on the tracks for the past few months for qualifying runs and to assess the route.

Vermont Translines already provides two Amtrak services in Vermont – the Vermonter, running from St. Albans to Washington, DC, via Essex Junction, Waterbury, Brattleboro and New York Penn Station, as well as the Ethan Allen Express currently running from Rutland to Castleton and Penn Station.

The growing presence of Amtrak passenger trains in Vermont poses significant safety risks, primarily due to their differences from freight trains, according to Toni Hamburg Clithero, state coordinator for Operation Lifesaver of Vermont, Inc., and responsible for the Amtrak grant program. While freight trains travel on jointed rails that produce sound each time the train hits a joint, Amtrak intercity passenger trains travel on quarter-mile-long, continuously welded rails that produce no sound. noise as loud or as often.

“The service is of course faster than freight, it is quieter than freight, and it will probably run more during the day than what we necessarily have with freight. At the end of the day, you don’t want to come into contact with either type of train, they are faster and quieter than you think – and that’s especially true with passenger trains,” Clithero said.

Freight trains are more common in Vermont, so many locals may be familiar with the precautions needed around these trains and have a false sense of security around the new tracks. According to Clithero, the thump and quiet of Amtrak trains can be heard mostly behind and beside the train rather than in front, and can be confused with the sound of wind in the trees. The risk is compounded by the way the trains appear from afar.

“When you look at an approaching train, they are such large objects that they appear to be moving much slower than they are, like when you see planes hanging in the air as they begin to land, c It’s the same kind of phenomenon, so I really want people to understand that they have to make really smart choices around tracks and they should never try to beat a train,” Clithero said.

Clithero cited reports of students and other Vermonters walking, jogging or skiing along the trails or using them as a shortcut. Less than 5 VSA. 3734-Trecking, all such actions are illegal and subject to a $200 fine. The tracks are private property, and the only legal place to cross is at a designated crossing, most of which are public, but some of which are private and agricultural level crossings. Trains also only honk at public crossings. It is also important to ensure that there is enough space on the other side of a level crossing with a traffic light so that cars do not get stuck in the tracks. Clithero pointed out that even when tracks seem harmless to cross, the only legal and safe place to cross is at a designated crossing.

Tragedies still happen often and are very risky in Vermont, especially since many may not be aware of the new service and the fact that the train is already on the tracks at random times. Also, even during normal service, the train may be delayed and may run at unexpected times.

The new Amtrak station at Middlebury. Passenger rail service will begin at this station in July.

“Someone was killed in New York State by the Ethan Allen Express just a few weeks ago, a tragic reminder that every three hours a person or vehicle is hit by a train in this country “, wrote Clithero. “So it happens a lot more often than people realize.”

At each official crossing there is an emergency notice sign showing the crossing number and the telephone number of the train dispatcher for quick use in the event a vehicle or person is stuck on the paths.

Operation Lifesaver Vermont is a state partner of Operation Lifesaver, Inc., a national nonprofit organization that provides rail safety education training and materials. As part of raising awareness, Clithero is encouraging people to sign Operation Lifesaver’s online Rail Safety Pledge at oli.org, in hopes that Vermont could lead the way in pledging to stay safe around trains.

“We want zero tragedy in Vermont, so we need everyone’s help to make it happen,” Clithero said.

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Maya Heikkinen

Maya Heikkinen ’24 is a copy editor.

She previously worked for a semester as a writer for News and Local.

Although still undeclared, she plans to major in environmental studies, probably conservation biology, and possibly a minor in English while continuing to improve her Spanish. In addition to The Campus, Maya is involved with SNEG and Wild Midd.

Coming from Orcas Island, WA, Maya enjoys being immersed in forests, gardening, running and hiking, identifying plants, farmers markets, writing and spending time with cats.


Jose P. Rogers