By Guy Page
Just days after the Vermont Legislature unveiled and approved a Barre-Montpelier commuter rail study, renewable power mogul David Blittersdorf told VTDigger he wants to run his diesel-power railroad cars on a commuter line between Barre and Montpelier.
As reported May 22 by Headliners, H.529, the comprehensive transportation bill approved by the House and Senate, authorizes a study of commuter rail on existing railroad tracks between Barre and Montpelier to be completed by Dec. 1 of this year. No funding is cited. The money reportedly will come from this year’s Vermont Department of Transportation budget.
The Barre-Montpelier rail study was a johnny-come-lately to the 2019 transportation bill. Absent in either the House- or Senate-approved versions, it first appeared in the conference committee version last week. (The House version endorses a study of a St. Albans — Montpelier rail line for self-propelled diesel-powered cars — an obvious display of support for Blittersdorf, who two years ago paid $5 million for 12 used self-propelled, diesel-powered commuter rail cars.) House Transportation is chaired by Rep. Curt MacCormack, D-Burlington, a strong public transportation supporter who does not own a car and instead walks and bicycles around town and takes the Green Mountain Transit Authority (GMTA) “Link” commuter bus to and from Montpelier.
H.529 carefully says the study “shall be neutral regarding the type of passenger rail car to be operated on the State-owned railroad line between Montpelier and Barre.” Therefore, no-one can say the 11th -hour conference committee addition of the Barre-Montpelier rail study endorses any particular plan.
His proposed Essex-Montpelier commuter line stymied for now due to high costs and lack of enthusiasm from officialdom, Blittersdorf is focused on Barre-Montpelier, he told VT Digger May 26:
I’m trying to get rail working in Vermont. We are fixing up these Budd cars in Barre at the old Bombardier plant, and trying to get the state to use them. We’re getting a little resistance. They’re going to get on the rail line somehow. We’re trying to figure out how to get the state to connect communities. This is how our communities used to thrive. We used to have rail, schools and hardware stores.
We think the first thing we might be able to get done quickly is between Montpelier and Barre; there’s a seven-mile line there that is basically not being used, and there’s a lot of people going between those two cities. The cars I have are self-contained, self-driving, bi-directional, with two redundant diesel engines, and they don’t need a locomotive to pull them.
We need to get out of the car. I don’t believe in the electric car is going to save us.
At present a single freight train traverses the Barre-Montpelier railroad tracks twice a day. Presumably the study approved last week will determine:
- Cost to taxpayers and would-be commuters to plan, regulate, implement, and operate the service
- Greenhouse gas reduction/increase of operating diesel-powered railroad cars, compared to alternatives;
- Commuter demand, in light of GMTA’s current operation of several dedicated bus lines serving Barre, Montpelier, and Berlin commuters.
The VTDigger story prompted many online comments and responses, including this from Glenn Thompson: “I wonder if Blittersdorf ever learned why the Champlain Flyer failed? If he wants to spend his fortune getting another passenger rail service to be successful in a rural low-density state, Go for it! Just don’t ask the taxpayers to fund it or pay to maintain it.”
Irene Stewart noted: “Blittersdorf wants the state to subsidize his trains — he loves subsidies from the taxpayers. The State of Vermont is in no position to subsidize trains, solar panels, or wind towers, with the amount owed for pensions, the necessity to clean the waters in our state, and to pay for all the other necessities like infrastructure by very, very FEW Vermonters who actually pay income taxes in this state. About a year ago, or so, Blittersdorf wanted a 2 MILLION DOLLAR subsidy from the City of Montpelier to run his train from Barre to Montpelier. Good Luck with that — it will not happen here.”
On the other hand, Chuck Lacy wrote: “I admire Blittersdorf’s commitment, imagination and resourcefulness in pushing for better energy. He is in the arena. He takes the shots. He has the courage to get out front. The timid want to be 1 out of 1. He’d rather be 3 out of 5. I admire that. I can’t wait to ride one of those Bud Cars from Montpelier to Barre.”
Statehouse Headliners is intended primarily to educate, not advocate. It is e-mailed to an ever-growing list of interested Vermonters, public officials and media. Guy Page is affiliated with the Vermont Energy Partnership; the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare; and Physicians, Families and Friends for a Better Vermont.