Roper: Blitterdorf train scheme comes off tracks

By Rob Roper

A little backstory for those who may have missed it. David Blitterdorf of All Earth Renewables purchased some 1950s-era passenger rail cars in the hopes of putting them back to use in mass public transportation for Vermonters, at taxpayer-subsidized expense. Why at taxpayers’ expense and not as a private investment? Because the idea is totally impractical with no possible pathway to making a profit. How bad is it exactly? The report came out this week.

Rob Roper is the president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

Stuck into last year’s budget was an earmark for a study of what it would take to put just one very small phase of Blittersdorf’s vision into practice: upgrading an eight-mile stretch of railway track between Barre and Montpelier. The document, WACR MB Freight Corridor Commuter Rail Study, determined the cost to upgrade the tracks and install Positive Train Control (a safety system required for passenger rail service) to be $96.4 million over a five-year period.

That’s nearly $20 million a year for five years just to put the tracks in shape to move some people a short distance. This cost does not consider what ongoing subsidies would be required to operate the trains, as it is highly unlikely that ticket prices alone would come close to covering the cost of operations. (Think Amtrak.)

Now let’s put this into a larger context. One of the demands that climate activists are calling for is expanded public transportation, of which rail is a romanticized part. If it costs nearly $100 million just to upgrade eight miles of track, what do you think it will cost to build up passenger rail infrastructure to the point where it is actually convenient and useful enough for a critical mass of people to realistically give up driving cars? It would be more viable (and way cooler) for Vermont to launch its own space program.

It is questionable as to why this study was even necessary. That the plan was financially unrealistic should have been obvious. But, if the staggering numbers here succeed in putting this and other such plans to rest for good, perhaps it will have been worth it.

Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute. Reprinted with permission from the Ethan Allen Institute Blog.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Public domain

12 thoughts on “Roper: Blitterdorf train scheme comes off tracks

  1. I think we can safely bet our as*es Dave will not be riding the train…nor will our ‘betters’ – the elitists who ‘work’ for us in Montpelier. Its single-digit mpg SUVs for VTs rich and famous.

    Think Comrade Phil or anyone in the State House will be on it? In a word *no*.

  2. If they really wanted to, this could be done at a fraction of the projected cost, with private money.
    It probably would never pay for itself though. Those Budd cars are made of stainless steel, so they can last forever, though obviously their running gear won’t.
    Positive Train Control is for lines that carry more than one train at a time, usually over large distances, at speed. The idea of including that in the plan must have more to do with a bid for public money than any conceivable need. Looks like another boondoggle at public expense, not a realistic plan.

  3. Of course the study wasn’t necessary, yet we’re doing them all across the United states, multiple, times…how many have been done in Vermont alone? People make a lot of money on these studies.

    Had Blittersdorf pulled off this con he would have too! A ton of money.

    We have massive black holes that suck up all our tax payer money. When we finally get to look the hood of Vermont government, I bet it’s a black hole with a giant sucking sound.

    We could probably cut our budget 25% on waste fraud and corruption. It’s massive.mif we go completely socialist it will easily exceed that, socialism is state sanctioned cronyism, we’re almost there! If the progressives completely take over the Democratic Party in Vermont……some will be more equal than others.

  4. As I traveled from btv to Montpelier every day for 13,years and in all my travels around Chitt county I see the majority of GMTA buses empty or slightly occupied. We seem to already have a public bus system that is hardly used at the taxpayers expense.

    So that being said, I cannot believe the idiot Blittrrsdorf even got the study approved.

    The real idiots are the voters who elect the legislators who would vote to fund this study.

    Blittersdorf biz models all have been companies that relied on govt (taxpayer) funding. FAKE business’s!!

    Now that slippery Sneaky Pete Shumlin isn’t around to be greased by his ex-partner Blittersdorf, maybe all his “Fake” companies will fail on their own and save the working taxpayers $$$

  5. This sounds like classic “bloated dome” business-as-usual. Subsidize a purchase with taxpayer funds of antiquated trains that are useless without a rail line — THEN study if it’s feasible; pay for the study to benefit Blittersdorf, also with taxpayer funds (how much was the study?); then, even when it is proven unfeasible, try to peddle the scheme without any concept of cost-benefit. Completely out-of-touch representation of special interests at the expense of the working people of Vermont — business as usual at the Bloated Dome.

  6. As Yogi used to say, “it ain’t over ’til the fat lady sings.” Regardless of practicality, the lady has yet to sing.

  7. Blitterdorf has become used to the many million of subsidies showered on him during the infamous Shumlin years. Two birds of a feather creasing each other’s pockets.

    So he thought to buy some crappy 1950s train cars for a song and a dance at an auction, and then to cajole gullible, dreamers in Montpelier Lalaland to get millions in subsidies to get the trains started and then to keep the near-empty trains running deeper and deeper into the red, like the $250,000 electric school buses in Massachusetts.

    No la la bureaucrats care, because it is not THEIR money. They are in it for EGO PURPOSES, feeling important, making a difference, and all that cr..

    Comes along a study to upgrade just 8 miles of dilapidated tracks at TWELVE MILLION PER MILE. Are you kidding me? No person with any sense would go for such horse manure.

  8. Let’s see, If it costs nearly $100 million just to upgrade eight miles of track, and according
    to Socialist Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her ” Green New deal ” she wants
    any all fossil fuel vehicles ” Gone “…..because the world is going to implode in 12 years.

    So why waste $100m on an eight-mile Boondoggle from Liberals, sounds like another good
    proposal to waste taxpayer money.

  9. As I commented last year before the State spend the taxpayers’ hard earned cash on this feel good study:

    “Pardon Me Boys, Is That the Blittersdorf Choo-Choo ?

    I am a big railfan and wish such a plan could work (without government subsidies), however local rail service is impractical in rural areas for many reasons – lack of passenger traffic, accommodation for priority service by the host freight railroad (track owner), purchasing and maintaining stations and parking facilities, “engine” houses for maintenance and repairs . . .!

    The 60 year old Budd RDC self-propelled units are antiques that are generally seen in railroad museums. Blittersdorf is able to buy them cheap because they were headed for the scrap line as they are obsolete and beyond their life cycle – a maintenance nightmare!

    Passenger rail service effectively died in 1971 with the bankruptcy of the Penn Central (unsuccessful merger of the rival Pennsylvania Railroad and the New York Central in an attempt to stave off bankruptcy). The National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak) was created by Congress to maintain passenger rail service in the Northeast Corridor eventually expanding as other still profitable railroads happily turned their highly unprofitable passenger service over to Amtrak. Today, Amtrak passenger service is highly subsidized by the Federal Government with additional contribution from state and local entities. The average Amtrak requires a subsidy of about $51/ticket or about 40% of total operating costs. Mr. Blittersdorf is a smart fellowand surely knows his “big idea” will not work without massive government subsidies – a fact he is withholding from his promotional discussion.

    Blittersdorf earlier bragged that these railcars could plow through snow that was as high as the cars, in reality a good 18″ snow will bring them to a halt In this undated picture (from the 1970’s) Reading RDCs struggle southbound in a little over a foot of snow at Reliance Road near Souderton, PA. – Just imagine a pair of the RDCs struggling in a couple feet of snow on a grade in Vermont.

    I wish Dave only the best of luck with his venture, however without a massive subsidy – his All-Earth Railroad has got no shot. Beyond the finance issues, he will have to compete with the statewide GMTA service which isn’t restricted by the limitations of where the tracks happen to be located. In rural areas, bus service is the practical mode of public transportation – PERIOD !

    Blittersdorf has talked himself into a financial disaster unless he thinks the State of Vermont is going to shell out $10 – $20 per ticket to cover the operating loss – good luck with that !

    H Brooke Paige – June 28, 2017


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