Train Scheme Comes Off Tracks

December 6, 2019

by Rob Roper

A little backstory for those who may have missed it…. David Blitterdorf of All Earth Renewables purchased some 1950’s 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!

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 just to upgrade the tracks and install Positive Train Control (a safety system required for passenger rail service) to be $96.4 million dollars over a five year period.

$96.4 million. That’s nearly $20 million a year for five years just to put the tracks in shape to move not very many people between two not very far away points. 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. 

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Bob DePino December 6, 2019 at 9:33 pm

Passenger rail travel has NEVER been profitable.
It was used by railroads as advertising for their money making freight service.
RDCs were costly and inefficient when they were introduced by the Budd Company.
While it may be fun to ride in refurbished RDCs, they should be restored and used by tourist railroads.
It’s just about putting our money in Blitterdorf’s pocket.

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Deb Billado December 7, 2019 at 12:11 am

Nothing like a good pet project for the wealthy (Blittersdorf) and out of touch legislators to
spend the good taxpayers money on.. when will the madness stop!!!

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Wayne Dyer December 7, 2019 at 12:45 am

Maybe Howard Dean would invest a little of his money in passenger rail. He always acted like a believer.

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Ted Robinson December 7, 2019 at 12:55 am

It would be interesting to know how much the wasteful study cost.

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Bruce Shields December 7, 2019 at 1:05 am

I rode in those cars as a youngster. They work fine, and are excellent transportation. Boston & Maine ran one under contract from Boston’s North Station through Concord, NH, White River Junction and up to Burlingon. But the labor union insisted that each unit had to have Engineer, Fireman, Trainman, Brakeman, Conductor. The Budd Co. designed those cars to be operated by one single operator, just like a Greyhound Bus. Payroll padding killed passenger rail. There is nothing wrong with the equipment. But it is true that Vermont road-beds have been horridly neglected.

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David Blittersdorf December 7, 2019 at 1:44 am

Rob, You are poorly mis-informed on the RDC Budd cars and don’t understand that the VTrans study was a “gold plated” study to make sure commuter rail will not happen under the hugely subsidized auto dominated VTrans budget. Oh, you are also clueless on when PTC is needed, it’s not needed on this line at all.

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Irene Stewart December 7, 2019 at 2:29 am

Rob, thank you so much for this information! As usual, not a word in the Argus about this report, detailing the exorbitant amount of money needed to fix the tracks between Barre and Montpelier. Hopefully, this will be the end of this craziness.
As you well know, Blittersdorf does nothing without lots of subsidies from hard working Vermonters. I do not think he will succeed here or elsewhere in Vermont.
Please, send this to the Argus, Free Press, The Bridge (in Montpelier), and maybe these people who think these utopian ideas can become reality, will think differently now.

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Steve Jackson December 7, 2019 at 3:29 am

If nostalgic modes of transportation are what they really want then that $96.4 million could operate quite a few buggies or stage coaches but not on my dime, thanks. Maintaining our infrastructure does not include outmoded forms of transportation.

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William Hays December 7, 2019 at 4:46 am

I think Blittersdorf’s idea is a great one, but not doable as outlined. BTW, the Budd cars are called RDCs, for Rail DIESEL Cars and are self-propelled. What say, Progressives and ‘Enviro-Loons’, to these fossil-fueled choo-choos? I must admit I love them, having ridden on them many times in the US and Canada for real travel. Extending the route to Montpelier Junction, to meet the Amtrak trains, and (perhaps) on to downtown BTV and maybe St. Albans is feasable (sp?) and might be useful. They might even get some dispensation on PTC. Maybe we could even restore the Mount Mansfield Electric Railway and get service into Stowe again! Might have to demolish Unilever’s “Ben & Jerry’s” plant, on the way, but that would be a good thing, methinks. Anything is better than having Blittersdorf squander taxpayer’s money on wind generators!

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William Hays December 12, 2019 at 3:18 pm

Addendum: I now live in Montana (a Stowe ex-pat) and pay ~$0.0685 /kWh for residential electricity. We have many (~300) wind generators/bird killers in my county. ALL the output is sold to the utility in San Diego, CA, at exorbitant prices. The ‘wind’ companies are Spanish-owned and are, currently, reneging on their pie-in-the-sky promised tax payments to our local schools, but that’s another story. Our school districts need those monies to send high school students ~800 miles (RT) to participate in silly sports, such as ‘African handball’ and wrestling (guy groping), in hopes of getting college scholarships. They have no hope in getting academic scholarships, being ‘taught’ by inept, unionized NEA/UFT faculty. Again, another story… “Go green and die”, Vermont.

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William Hays December 12, 2019 at 3:20 pm

Another thought: will Blittersdorf’s RDCs have solar panels on the roofs?

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Rachel Williams December 7, 2019 at 1:13 pm

When did the Democrat controlled Vermont legislature let a negative study stand in the way of their “vision” for Vermont?!

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doug richmond December 8, 2019 at 2:09 pm

Isn’t there a bus service already in operation?!
Gee, Busses can go in opposite directions on the same road at the same time, trains cannot.
How long would the wait be before train was going in your direction..
Busses do not stop car travel as do railroad crossings – MANY times a day.
Busses can pick up and drop off ANYWHERE, but train rails out in the brush can only stop at expensively created stations.
Just the cost of this ‘study’ would make the busses free for some time. The $$$$Cost of getting ready to run these BUDD cars,
might run the busses free forever!

Two busses going in opposite directions would be great multiples better, and less expensive than a stupid train

Reply

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