Fowler: Don’t Ask for Billion Dollar High Speed Rail

Rail Advocate Carl Fowler, of Williston Vermont, speaking in Greenfield about the future of railroad travel.
Rail Advocate Carl Fowler, of Williston Vermont, speaking in Greenfield about the future of railroad travel.

Carl Fowler is a railroad man. It’s in his blood and a proud part of his family history. He says that expecting billion dollar rail projects in 2018 is going to take too long. That we all should be working hard and advocating for regional rail.  Slower railcars, like the self-powered Diesel Rail Cars, might be the answer to how we can become a railroad commuting community.

This sleek train, The Flying Yankee, ran in the 1930s that went 110 mph!
This sleek train, the Flying Yankee, ran in the 1930s that went 110 mph!

At the Olver Transportation Center a few days ago, Fowler laid out the history of our rail service, and a possible future.  It is clear when he showed a 1948 Boston and Maine timetable for trains out of Greenfield, that they had just about every destination covered!  Despite our less crowded route map, today more people than ever are riding railroads.

The Vermonter has seen nearly 900,000 riders, and other routes have also exploded.  Just last March I took a train from downtown Denver to the Winter Park Ski Resort, and this new Ski Train is selling out every trip, with more added!

The audience was full and very interested in Carl’s animated discussion of the glory days of passenger rail, and some of today’s most successful routes.  One is the Downeaster, that Amtrak runs between Boston and Coastal Maine. It now goes all the way to Brunswick, north of Freeport, and this summer, they’ll extend a trip to Rockland, on a former tourist rail route.

Prowler pointed out a pain point for passenger rail service in Northern New England … the 70 miles of nearly unusable tracks, left unmaintained for decades when the state of New Hampshire didn’t buy the right of way. Plans for high-speed new tracks from Boston to Montreal?  It will never happen.

But we do have good news in Western Mass since the number of north-south trains is set to expand to five trains a day. The stated goal is a round trip same day to, NYC from Greenfield.

A private investor in Vermont bought 12 Budd Diesel Rail Cars, the 1950s vintage self-propelled rail cars. Why not use those to increase our own regional rail service? Connecting it with bus service can make it a true alternative to car travel.

Did you know that today you can take two different trains to get deep into Vermont? Not only the Vermonter, but the Ethan Allen Express takes passengers up through New York to Rutland!

But the current trend to plan for high-speed rail has derailed our ability to actually come up with and pay for new rail service. So this is why Fowler advocates using practical trainsets that aren’t hugely expensive and accepting a lower speed trip since it’s better than a high-speed nothing burger.

If you’re interested in rail travel in New England, here are several organizations focused on this goal.

Trains in the Valley is an advocacy group pushing elected officials to fund and encourage rail travel. Their phone is 413-341-0123.

On a national level, the Rail Passengers Association lobbies on a federal level for Amtrak funding.