Rutland station continues to be hub connecting Vermonter to train networks nationwide The Vermont Agency of Transportation has announced that the Amtrak Ethan Allen Express train will begin the highly-anticipated expanded passenger rail service to Burlington, Vergennes, and Middlebury on July 29, 2022. This service culminates the Agency’s extensive planning and infrastructure work to upgrade the tracks between Rutland and Burlington to accommodate higher speed passenger rail.
“Providing this new service along the western corridor wouldn’t have happened without the partnership between the Agency of Transportation, the General Assembly, Vermont’s congressional delegation, and the U.S. Department of Transportation, and the willingness of communities along the way,” said Gov. Phil Scott. “This new service will benefit Vermonters in countless ways, all while helping to grow our economy.”
“Our agency’s talented and dedicated rail leadership, engineers, and planners deserve immense credit for their steadfast dedication to bringing to Vermonters and visitors to the state this new transportation option for travel between New York City and Burlington,” said Vermont Transportation Secretary Joe Flynn. “Passenger rail travel offers beautiful scenery, relaxation, and spacious and comfortable seating, and trains are nearly three times more energy efficient than automobiles.”
With gas prices at record highs, passenger rail also offers a more affordable option, with fares from Burlington to New York City starting at $75 — less from Rutland and Castleton. In addition to Burlington, the northbound train also stops in Vergennes and Middlebury, all of which host new stations. Rutland has served as the Vermont anchor for the Ethan Allen line for many years. The line south also stops in Castleton before continuing southwest.
Traveling from Rutland by train
By Julia Purdy
The completion of the final passenger rail link between New York City and Burlington via Rutland is exciting news for travelers, but how many realize that one can now travel the entire continental U.S. seamlessly by rail, right from Rutland? Vermont’s Ethan Allen line connects in Schenectady to the Lake Shore Limited, which connects in Chicago to routes that fan out across the country. With 30 train routes and 500 destinations in 46 states, the country is literally at our feet — on demand.
In 2001 and again in 2012, I rode Amtrak overnight across portions of the West, both to or from Rutland each time. In 2001 I traveled from Spokane, Washington, on the Empire Builder to come home for Christmas, and then about 10 years later from Rutland on the Southwest Chief to visit my cousin in Arizona. The layovers were not onerous and even left time for a bit of sightseeing.
No longer do you have to wait endlessly on the phone to get information. Nowadays, the Amtrak site is fully up-to-date, including an interactive trip planning page and paperless ticketing. Its vacation planning feature includes overnight stays (“getaways”) at selected national parks on the line and major cities of interest, with the option to create your own itinerary. And as I understand it, you can get off the train almost anywhere and get back on when the next train comes through!
For bicycle touring and competing, select stations will load bikes on racks in a secure space. Check the website. For those old enough to remember the bad old days of Amtrak, you may be glad to know that the intervening 10 years made a big difference in the quality of service. Clearly the hope is that everyone will enjoy the ride. A welcome addition is Amtrak’s webpage on “train manners,” including respecting the “very sacred Quiet Car” (Amtrak website). Wifi is limited to certain routes; both the Empire Builder and the Southwest Chief are excellent opportunities to unplug, get some reading done, play cards, converse, or just sit and watch the world go by.
On the 2001 trip, an enclosed smoking room allowed passengers to get their nicotine fix. And let’s just say the restrooms left a lot to be desired. Nowadays, absolutely no smoking is allowed on the train, and in fact, in Albuquerque, a passenger was put off the train for smoking in a restroom. Cleanliness is a priority; cleaning protocols are maintained while en route, using EPA-registered products, and there is fresh air exchange on board every 4-5 minutes. Maintaining health is also a priority in this time of the pandemic: voluntary masking, physical distancing and cashless payments keep risk at a minimum.
You don’t need an expensive roomette to get a good sleep. The seating is ample and, as with a comfy recliner, the footrests lift up, putting you in what some consider the optimal position for sleep. Pillows are provided; all you need is your own blanket and earplugs or earbuds. No longer do vendors roam the aisles hawking snacks. You can bring your own picnic basket.
All meals are prepared fresh on the train and served in the dining car on linen tablecloths with silverware and adorned with flower vases; the Empire Builder made several 20-minute stops where we could stand on solid ground while the train replenished stocks and refueled. The dining car menu, which includes children’s fare and bar selections, can be viewed online.
The Empire Builder is a transcontinental line that follows the route of the Great Northern Railway, forged in 1889 from an amalgam of smaller companies. It linked St. Paul, Minnesota, to Seattle after winding through the Rockies and skirting Glacier National Park, crossing the coulee-pocked arid plateau of eastern Washington, the Columbia River and finally the Cascades.
In 1929, the railroad bored 7.79 miles through the Cascade Range to create “the longest railroad tunnel today in the Western Hemisphere,” according to the Great Northern Railway Historical Society. The tunnel, at Stevens Pass, replaced an original series of switchbacks, which must have been as hair-raising to passengers as the steep pass can be today to motorists. In addition, the track had to be shielded from avalanches by timber “snow sheds,” which required constant upkeep and plowing. Nevertheless an avalanche in 1920 swept a train and 90 passengers to the valley floor below. The tunnel project enabled reliable daily service between the coast and Chicago.
My first trip, in 2001 aboard the Empire Builder, began in Spokane just after midnight. Boarding was easy and efficient.
The Empire Builder follows the so-called high-line — U.S. Highway 2 –—just miles from the Canadian border in Montana. This Amtrak line is as much a public conveyance for the folks living on the High Plains as a subway is in a major city. Families were traveling from town to town across many miles, and patients used it to get to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. In 2001, students on Christmas break from the University of Montana and Montana state piled on with their sleeping bags and were immediately snoring.
That particular time, in the aftermath of 9/11, the train was packed with travelers who might otherwise have flown. The atmosphere seemed to be one of relief, safe on terra firma, with time to process the recent catastrophe in the low-key environment.
As I recall, at Whitefish outside Glacier National Park a park ranger boarded the train, “Smokey hat” and all, and gave a traveling interpretation of the park. At Havre, Montana, we could see the river bluffs where, before the horse era, ancient hunters drove bison off the edge and harvested the carcasses below. Maybe it was at Shelby where a lone coyote trotted warily across open ground some distance from the train.
My 2012 trip to Arizona on the Southwest Chief was equally enjoyable. The interval in Chicago was a few hours but it was interesting to experience that huge, stately station, take a breather, and grab a bite. I could have done a little sightseeing but didn’t want to miss the next train!
There were families traveling to a wedding. There were international tourists who were interested in everything and had lots of questions. Over 30 hours and 1,700 miles, the train became like a little community on wheels. There was only one glitch: when my cousin met me in Flagstaff the evening of the second day, we discovered my suitcase had been put off the train in Cleveland, of all places. But Amtrak made it right in the end: not only did the company ship my suitcase to me in Phoenix via Greyhound, but it reimbursed me for items I had to buy in the meantime. I did have to drive to Albany to prove who I was and pick up the check, but I was impressed that Amtrak was so well on top of its mistake. In these days of high gasoline prices and pricey motel rooms, expensive RVs, full campgrounds and bad weather, exploring the country on Amtrak is a reasonable choice. Seeing the sweep of the nation from a train reminded me what a stupendous country we really do have. The settings for so much of our history – the small frontier towns like Cut Bank with its Glacier County Historical Museum, the Lewis & Clark Trail and of course the Rockies and Glacier National Park, are just a few places to come back to.