Statehouse Headliners: After Legislature OKs 11th-hour rail study, Blittersdorf says he wants Barre-Montpelier commuter train

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.

Guy Page is affiliated with the Vermont Energy Partnership, the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare, and Physicians, Families & Friends for a Better Vermont.

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:

  1. Cost to taxpayers and would-be commuters to plan, regulate, implement, and operate the service
  2. Greenhouse gas reduction/increase of operating diesel-powered railroad cars, compared to alternatives;
  3. 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.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Public domain
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8 thoughts on “Statehouse Headliners: After Legislature OKs 11th-hour rail study, Blittersdorf says he wants Barre-Montpelier commuter train

  1. Massachusetts Electric School Bus Program is a Flop

    Here is an evaluation of the MA electric school bus program.

    Yes, it is a flop. It did not save any energy costs. See URL
    https://www.mass.gov/files/documents/2018/04/30/Mass%20DOER%20EV%20school%20bus%20pilot%20final%20report_.pdf

    “V2G or V2B electric school bus systems is most likely not cost-effective at present”. See page 4 of 45

    The Vermont house energy/enviro committee also has the inane urge to buy the same school buses, even though I wrote them about the MA flop.

    It seems not to sink in they are throwing good money into a black hole.

    Are they hoping for a different outcome in Vermont with hills and snowy roads?

    Those buses would need 4-wheel drive.

  2. Vermont Department of Transportation:
    Vtrans would see a major increase in its budget and staff to be paid for by TCI carbon taxes, and other fees and surcharges

    Vtrans has a long list of initiatives to restructure Vermont transportation, including:

    – $380 million for railroad corridors. All of Vermont would be paying for railroad corridors connecting St. Albans, Burlington, Waterbury and Montpelier
    https://vtrans.vermont.gov/sites/aot/files/Montpelier-St.%20Albans%20Commuter%20Rail%20Study%20Revised.pdf

    – Bicycle paths at $2 million per mile. All of Vermont would be paying for bicycle paths for Vermont’s larger urban areas.

    – Electric buses at $350,000 each plus EV chargers. All of Vermont would be paying for electric buses and chargers for Vermont’s larger urban areas

    – Higher subsidies for electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids. Vermonters, especially in rural areas, likely will not be buying EVs unless they are SUVs, minivans, and ¼-ton pick-ups; and have 4WD; and cost less than $30,000

    – Moving tens of thousands of lower income households from rural areas into highly insulated/highly sealed apartment buildings closer to urban centers so mass transit (electric buses, electric vans, electric commuter rail, electric motor cycles, etc.) would be more fully utilized. Those apartment buildings would have heat pumps for heating and cooling, or be heated with biofuels, and have solar systems and batteries and EV chargers

    Any tax, including a carbon tax, passing through the hands of government suffers from “the sticky fingers syndrome”, $2 go in, $1.5 come out. The difference stays to feed the growing government bureaucracy.

    The key word missing in most discussions is UNILATERAL*.
    Vermont’s government imposing on Vermonters a unilateral carbon tax is like shooting them in the feet.

    * If the carbon tax were nationwide, I would support it.

    The carbon tax would:

    – Impose a $10/ton tax of carbon emitted in 2017, increasing to $100/ton in 2027.
    – Generate about $100 million in state revenue in 2019, about $520 million in 2027.
    – Be added to the fuel prices at gas stations and fuel oil/propane dealers.

    Drivers should expect a tax increase of 9 c/gal of gasoline in 2018, increasing to about 89 cents in 2027.
    Homeowners, schools, hospitals, businesses, etc., should expect a tax increase of 58 c/gal of propane and $1.02/gal of heating oil and diesel fuel in 2027.

  3. sounds a bit “fishy” to me,,,”rail study” then BOOM ! Use my self propelled diesel trains!!! He’s padding more than seats on them trains I bet. “self propelled”,,,will they take into consideration the massive disrepair of the B n M railway? who’s going to maintain that??? and what happens when one goes “rogue” and slams into something else somewhere, and people get hurt??? RIDE THE BUS if you don’t want to drive,,,or stay home.

  4. It would be great if we could get on a high speed rail that interconnected the population centers of the the Northeast including VT. However, the population just is not there to justify the investment. That is probably why our society chose bus travel and air travel over rail travel. Such a shame!

  5. I traverse Chitt county almost daily and commuted to b/m everyday for 13 years. I more often & still, see the GMTA buses running mostly empty. Even though I’m a proponent of rail for moving people in suburbia to cites & it is by far the best way to move freight, this study for their “green” buddy Blittersdorf is a huge waste of taxpayers $$$. But then again, those liberals under the dome, like most liberals, are idiots when it comes to managing & conserving money. Especially when it’s not coming out of their pockets..

  6. Only if he converts his trains to run on electric from solar panels on the rail cars.

    Only if he funds operation by money from riders – no 90% subsidies

    Rules are rules, Goals are goals. Good is good

    Filthy deisels

  7. Follow the money. Who gers the gold nugget????? Did it ever occur to the folks in Montpelier there is such a thing as a BUS???????? Dare say a fleet of buses could be funded with the cost of the feasibility study much less the cost of the entire boon doggle fiasco. More tax payers’ money down the drain. Don’t care if the funds come from an approved budget, it’s still our money?

  8. What would have happened if a Republican had tried such a maneuver? Shame on our legislature.

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