Amtrak improvements on deck for Rhinecliff; Vermont service

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On the verge of its 50th anniversary, the outlook for Amtrak has brightened considerably.

The passenger railroad has received federal support to restore daily service on a dozen long-distance routes, order new locomotives and passenger cars, and extend services on existing routes, members of the rail advocacy group Empire State Passengers Association (ESPA) were told at their annual meeting this past weekend.

Because of the pandemic, the meeting was held virtually.

Among the improvements:

The Ethan Allen Express between New York City and Rutland via Albany will be extended to Middlebury and Burlington, Vt., in early 2022, according to Lucas Irvine, road foreman of engines for Amtrak's Empire Corridor. Construction of a tunnel through downtown Middlebury and other track and platform work are expected to be completed during this year's construction season, said Christopher Parker, executive director of the Vermont Rail Action Network.

A new high-level platform, accessible bathrooms, repairs to the station and upgrades to the ticket counter, and two new elevators are among the improvements planned at the Rhinecliff rail station along the busy Albany-New York City rail corridor, said Derrick James, senior manager/government affairs for Amtrak. Track improvements will be done during the 2022 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, 2021, with station improvements in fiscal year 2023.

The ticket counter at the Rensselaer station will be relocated and work to improve the traffic flow to the Rensselaer boarding platforms also is planned. No time frame was given for that work.

Less progress has been made on restoring local services curtailed by the pandemic. While the Lake Shore Limited, which serves Chicago, Boston and New York City from Albany, will resume daily service at the end of May, it's not clear when the borders to Vermont and Canada will reopen.

Vermont's governor closed the border at the start of the pandemic to prevent the spread of COVID-19 via the Ethan Allen Express, which originates in New York City, a coronavirus hot spot at the time. The Canadian border, meanwhile, has been closed to the Montreal-bound Adirondack since the pandemic.

Both trains now go no farther north than Albany.