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Thursday, Oct 6, 2022

New Amtrak stop connects Middlebury and New York City

The new Amtrak station, which runs from New York’s Penn Station to downtown Middlebury, began service in late July.
The new Amtrak station, which runs from New York’s Penn Station to downtown Middlebury, began service in late July.

Middlebury is now a station on Amtrak’s Ethan Allen Express, which runs daily from New York’s Penn Station to Burlington, Vt. by way of Albany and Rutland. The station opened on July 29, making it the first passenger rail service to operate in the area since 1953. The introduction of the service prompted increased rail safety awareness efforts in Middlebury over the past several months by Operation Lifesaver of Vermont, Inc.

These safety awareness measures have been successful so far, according to Toni Hamburg Clithero, state coordinator of Operation Lifesaver of Vermont, Inc. and Amtrak grants program manager. While the initial response to the new train has generally been positive, farmers with private crossings without bells and gates have expressed concern, requesting exact schedules to be able to safely move tractors and other slow-moving or large vehicles over the tracks. According to Clithero, however, there is no easy solution other than fitting these crossings with lights and gates, an operation which she said would be expensive and impractical given they are not in private use at all times of the year.

“The point is, you have to always expect a train because things happen in life; extra trains come, different trains come, come from either direction. Really the message has to be: Always expect a train,” Clithero said.

On July 29, the day of the initial launch of the service to Middlebury, the Ethan Allen Express faced disruption in its regular route due to the City of Albany’s decision to declare a state of emergency as a result of the deterioration of the vacant Central Warehouse. The damage had caused parts of the facade to fall off near the tracks, prompting Amtrak to suspend service on the tracks and necessitating a bus bridge to and from Schenectady and other points west for the Ethan Allen Express. Parts of the southern-facing facade were eventually removed or reinforced that weekend, allowing Amtrak to resume service on Aug. 1.

Both the Ethan Allen Express and the Vermonter, Amtrak’s other service from St. Albans, Vt. to Washington, D.C., have returned to 100% of their 2019 capacity, which was their best year according to Clithero. Ridership of the Ethan Allen in July was around 11,000 passengers, more than double the approximately 5,000 passengers in June. Clithero noted that ridership is cyclical — it typically falls off during the winter months. This past winter, however, the Ethan Allen faced more severe decreases due to the Omicron variant and has seen increasing ridership since February. Clithero hopes that more feedback from passengers can provide a clearer picture of usage of the trains.

“That is definitely something I’m looking forward to doing, and I’m not exactly sure how we’re going to roll it out, but some kind of surveys that we can do and can conduct so that we know why people are riding the train, what they’re enjoying, what they have concerns about,” Clithero said.

Sabrina Salam ’24 rode the Ethan Allen Express from Penn Station to Middlebury on Sept. 5 to return to campus for the semester. The train left around 2:40 p.m., arriving in Middlebury around 9:00 p.m. after a slight delay due to technical difficulties at the previous stop, making the journey around six-and-a-half hours long. While Salam only saw one other Middlebury student on her trip, she believes there would have been more students had she traveled the weekend before classes started. She also expected a full train the entire time after seeing the trip sold out on Amtrak’s website the previous day, but most passengers were not aboard for the entire trip to Middlebury.

“It’s full in New York, but then people start getting out, and it starts getting empty,” Salam said.

Salam noted infrastructural differences between Penn Station and the station in Middlebury that made the logistics of disembarking with luggage more difficult and less accessible. While there is space for larger luggage on the train, getting off with it is unexpectedly challenging, according to Salam.

“When you get off [in Middlebury], I didn’t realize that the platform here is super low, so there’s stairs that come off the train, so you’re kind of on your own to bring your luggage down. And if your luggage is super big, you’ll go down with it. And like I didn't realize there were steps, I feel like that’s a little bit inaccessible,” Salam said.

Amtrak does not seem to disclose any warning or disclaimer about the steep stairs at the Middlebury station prior to the trip, according to Salam. However, she noted that the conductors will help passengers as needed if they communicate accessibility needs or ask for assistance.

While Salam was initially under the impression that the Middlebury station was located by the National Bank of Middlebury, passengers actually disembark on the opposite side of the tracks, near the park by Marble Works. This location is about a 20-minute walk from campus and is dimly lit at night as it is not near the downtown streets of Middlebury. While she initially planned on walking back with a friend, Salam ended up being picked up, since walking did not seem feasible.

“There’s like a parking lot, and light poles, and that’s about it. There’s no one around, it comes at night. There’s like a little [blue light] you can hit, but how long will it take until someone gets there, you know?” Salam said.

Salam felt that ride service from the train station to campus, provided by the college, could be useful as not all students have someone to pick them up.

“That would definitely be helpful, to have a shuttle to and from the train. And it’s only twice a day, it only operates twice a day, that’s not too bad,” Salam said.

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Maya Heikkinen

Maya Heikkinen '24 is a copy editor.

She has previously served for a semester as a staff writer for News and Local.

Although she is still undeclared, she plans to major in Environmental  Studies, most likely Conservation Biology, and perhaps minor in English  while also continuing to improve her Spanish. In addition to The  Campus, Maya is involved in SNEG and Wild Midd.

Coming from Orcas Island, WA, Maya loves being immersed in forests,  gardening, running and hiking, plant identification, farmers markets,  writing, and hanging out with cats.


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