News from Vermont Rail System

Vermont Officials Open Rail Tunnel after Clearance Upgrade

October 19, 2007

BELLOWS FALLS — Governor James Douglas was in Bellows Falls October 19 to cut the ribbon on the new and improved railroad tunnel that runs beneath the edge of the village square. The 281-foot long tunnel, built in 1851, definitely was not designed for modern freight loads. After years of delay, $2 million of federal money was finally appropriated to lower the floor of the historic rail tunnel by three feet, according to and editorial in the Brattleboro Reformer.

Now, the single biggest choke point between southern New England and Canada for north-south freight traffic has been removed, and the economic ramifications are huge. Right now, 90 percent of freight that passes through Vermont goes by truck. About 35,000 trucks a year carry shipping containers between the port of Montreal and southern markets. That's because parts of the 600 miles of rail lines in Vermont are unable to handle heavier trains and double-stacked container cars. With the track-lowering project, the Bellows Falls tunnel can accommodate double-stacked rail cars. The New England Central Railroad, Vermont's primary north-south rail line, believes that many of those containers motoring up Interstates 91 and 89 might instead be riding the rails. Some estimate that as many as 70,000 trucks a year might be removed from Vermont's highways.

With the lowering of the Bellows Falls tunnel, the focus now shifts to upgrading bridges and track beds to accommodate heavier trains. The national maximum weight standard for individual freight cars is 286,000 pounds, but parts of Vermont's rail lines have a maximum weight limit of 263,000 pounds. The state is working on this with the goal of increasing weight limits on both the NECR and the Vermont Rail System, which operates the Green Mountain Railroad and the Vermont Railway. These are positive developments for Vermont's transportation network and will pay big dividends in the future.

With our national highway system's capacity close to being maxed out, it's time to start investing in our nation's rail network. Improved freight and passenger rail service is easily doable, and will become increasingly important as energy costs rise.


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