Fifty Years of Service and Success
A History of the Vermont Rail System
Vermont Rail System’s story begins with the closing of another. By the fall of 1963, the end of the Rutland Railway was in sight, and it was sold to the State of Vermont. Jay Wulfson, an experienced railroader from East Brunswick, N.J., expressed interest in operating the line and restoring rail service to Western Vermont, following a nearly two year service interruption caused by labor strikes on the Rutland. On August 6, 1963, Wulfson signed a lease agreement with the state to begin operations. President Wulfson, along with Vice-President Harold T. Filskov, Charles Bishoff, and an ambitious team, set off to run the nation’s first privately owned railroad operating on publically-owned right of way.
In January 1964, the Vermont Railway (VTR) began service over 125 miles of former Rutland Railway trackage from Burlington to White Creek, N.Y., including a 4.5-mile stretch of track between North Bennington and Bennington. Bright Red graced the rails on January 6 as a modest GE 44 tonner and caboose went to work in Burlington Yard on the first day of operations. By the end of the day, it was apparent that VTR’s future was as bright as its paint scheme, as plans to add additional motive power were already in place. With daily freights running between Burlington and Rutland, and tri-weekly service between Rutland and North Bennington, VTR set out to restore rail traffic along Vermont’s Western Corridor with a strong dedication to customer service.
Fortune smiled on the Vermont Railway in 1965 when three piggyback ramps were strategically constructed in Burlington, Rutland, and North Bennington. The trailer-to-train service proved to be lucrative, and by 1974, piggyback trailers accounted for over ten percent of the railroad’s traffic. The VTR’s “tri-mount” logo soon reached beyond the rails as a newly acquired fleet of tractors and trailers hit the road to serve customers. Soon VTR’s six thousand trailers became the seventh largest fleet in the country.
In 1972, Wulfson and his associates purchased the Clarendon & Pittsford Railroad (CLP) from the Vermont Marble Company, which served several limestone and marble plants in Florence, Proctor, and Center Rutland. In November 1980, Jay Wulfson passed away, and John Pennington assumed presidency. By 1983, VTR had purchased the 24-mile Whitehall to Rutland line from the Delaware & Hudson Railroad. Following an ambitious upgrade, the line provided a vital link to shippers as a connection to the self-proclaimed "Bridge Line to New England and Canada” with the Delaware & Hudson Railroad. It was also during this time that Omya became the railroad’s largest shipper. The new modern calcium carbonate plant in Florence soon began shipping over ten cars of finished product each day, while the White Pigment Corporation also contributed to the road’s overall volume.
In 1997, the Green Mountain Railroad (GMRC) was acquired, and the three roads began operating under the banner of the Vermont Rail System (VRS). The GMRC provided 52 miles of mountainous railroad connecting Bellows Falls and Rutland. This connection also included “The Green Mountain Gateway”, which was formed in 1995 through a series of haulage agreements connecting the GMRC, New England Central, and Canadian Pacific. The Gateway provided the GMRC with access to major carriers such as Norfolk Southern, Providence & Worcester, and the Washington Country Railroad. In addition to being a strategic line for shippers, the railroad offered Vermont’s renowned scenery to over 35,000 passengers annually on the “Green Mountain Flyer” between June and October. The acquisition of the Riverside Reload Center in 1997 allowed the GMRC to serve off-rail customers in the lumber, steel, pulp, paper, and aggregate industries. The line’s proven profitability combined with
Vermont Railway’s core maintenance and customer service policies made the GMRC a valuable acquisition to the newly formed VRS.
The Washington County Railroad’s (WACR) Montpelier & Barre Division was next to join the VRS in September 1999. Several granite industries, lumber companies, and a wind generator manufacturer are located on the line that stretches from Montpelier Junction to Graniteville. Trains operate over 14 miles of steep terrain, which includes a 5% ascending grade from Barre to Graniteville through a series of spectacular switchbacks.
It was also during this time that the Vermont Agency of Transportation purchased the 41 miles of railroad between White River Junction and Wells River from Guildford Transportation Industries, and named the GMRC as interim operator in order to rehabilitate the line. Following extensive repairs during the year, train service resumed on the line in February 2000 after a nearly 5-year hiatus. In June 2002, the WACR was appointed to operate 41 miles of railroad from Wells River to White River Junction, located along the shore of the Connecticut River. In March 2003, the WACR was named permanent operator of the Conn River Line stretching 104 miles from White River Junction to Newport.
In 2002, the New York & Ogdensburg Railway (NYOG) was the last piece of former Rutland Railway to join the VRS family. Owned by the Ogdensburg Bridge and Port authority, the NYOG extends 29 miles from the Port of Ogdensburg to Norfolk N.Y., serving the port in addition to local industries.
Today the Vermont Rail System operates over 350 miles of track with its family of over 125 dedicated railroaders. The railroad hauls over 25,000 cars each year, with nearly 90% of traffic serving Vermont businesses. VRS maintains interchanges with: Canadian Pacific, CSX Transportation, New England Central, Montreal Maine & Atlantic, Pan Am Southern, and Canadian National Railway (via NECR), and also hosts Amtrak’s Ethan Allen Express, which runs daily between Rutland, V.T. and New York City. These six interchange points allow customers to effectively utilize a variety of rates and routes that best suit their individual needs. The VRS’s shipping operations reach beyond the rails with VRS-Connect, an affiliation of trans-loading, warehousing, and distribution facilities located strategically across the System.
On January 1, 2014, the Vermont Rail System celebrated 50 years of continuous family-owned and operated service. Plans for the future include expanded passenger service to Burlington and numerous infrastructure upgrades. With the same dedication to customer service it had since its inception, the Vermont Rail System looks forward to expanding its customer base while continuing to “Serve America’s Industry with Pride”.