Saratoga County supervisors plan to support an effort to bring passenger rail service back to Mechanicville, as long as it doesn’t mean reduced service for Saratoga Springs.
The Board of Supervisors will vote Feb. 26 on endorsing an option now under study that would have Amtrak serve Rutland, Vt., from two different directions, traveling on separate routes through both Saratoga Springs and Mechanicville.
The federally supported New York-Vermont Bi-State Interstate Passenger Rail Study is currently looking at the feasibility of bringing new Amtrak service to southwestern Vermont.
There are three options under review: shifting the existing Ethan Allen route that runs through Saratoga Springs and Fort Edward to a new route that goes through Mechanicville, Bennington and Manchester; running passenger trains on both routes; or doing nothing new in southwestern Vermont and leaving the existing Ethan Allen service as it is.
The capital cost of a new route through Mechanicville and Bennington, including construction of three new stations and necessary track upgrades, has been estimated at $117.5 million.
While officials in Bennington County see the route as a way to bring visitors from the New York City area to southwestern Vermont ski areas and cultural attractions, the plan has provoked some controversy in Saratoga County.
The Saratoga Springs City Council earlier this month passed a resolution stating its “strong opposition” to eliminating any scheduled service to the city’s West Avenue railroad station.
The Ethan Allen is one of just two regular daily Amtrak trains serving Saratoga Springs. The other is the Adirondack, which runs between New York City and Montreal.
County officials said they want to support the city, but also encourage the version of the plan that would bring new service — including a new railroad station — to Mechanicville, which has not had passenger service in more than a half-century.
“I would support going through Mechanicville if it is economically feasible,” said Legislative and Research Committee Chairman Bill Peck, R-Northumberland.
“It looks very probable that this is going to happen, and we have to do something about it,” Supervisor Joanne Yepsen, D-Saratoga Springs, said during a recent county committee discussion.
The study, being managed by the Vermont Agency of Transportation with support from the New York State Department of Transportation, is to be submitted to the Federal Railroad Administration this spring. It could serve as the groundwork for applying for federal high-speed rail funds to create a new route.
Vermont currently underwrites the roughly $1.7 million annual operating loss of the Ethan Allen route, which carries about 78,000 passengers per year. The annual losses would remain about the same if the route were simply moved to serve Bennington and Manchester, the study authors have estimated. Operating trains on both routes would result in a combined operating loss of about $5 million annually, the study found. No decision has been made how such a loss would be covered.
However, the study estimates ridership could increase: The two routes together would draw 126,000 riders a year by 2030, while an Ethan Allen re-routed through Mechanicville and Bennington would serve an estimated 108,000 people each year, and a Saratoga-Rutland route would be expected to grow to about 88,000 riders a year.