MONTPELIER — Providing bus service from the Albany, N.Y. – Rensselaer, N.Y. Amtrak station to Bennington and Manchester, as a temporary alternative to rail service, could cost nearly $500,000 a year, according to a report released by the Agency of Transportation.
The state has a long-term goal of re-establishing passenger rail service from Albany through Bennington, Manchester and Rutland on to Burlington. But the effort to upgrade track is expected to take years and costs tens of millions of dollars. In the interim, the state is considering bus service as an alternative to connect passengers to rail stations.
The privately operated Yankee Trails service currently runs from Bennington to Albany, but does not include stops at the Amtrak station. It includes two daily return trips to Bennington in the late morning and early evening arrival, as well as a late morning and early evening departure from Bennington. There is no service to Manchester.
The state also subsidizes bus service on U.S. Route 7 between Burlington and Albany with stops in Bennington and Manchester. The one daily return trip does not serve the Albany‐Rensselaer rail station, but does make stops at the Albany International Airport and the Albany Bus Terminal, according to the report.
Agency staff consulted with the Joint Fiscal Office, the Bennington County Regional Commission, Amtrak, intercity bus carriers and Bennington-based Green Mountain Community Network, to develop bus options and alternatives for the study. According to the study, four viable options were identified:
— Amtrak Thruway Service,
— State‐Managed Intercity Bus Carrier,
— Local Transit Provider,
— Rerouting Existing Burlington‐Albany InterCity Bus Route to serve the Albany‐Rensselaer rail station.
Contracting with the Amtrak Thruway Service would cost $490,544, if a standard 50-seat motor coach is used. A 12- to 15-seat vehicle would cost $392,435, according to the study. Amtrak estimated total expenses of $664,544 offset by $174,000 in revenues to determine the motor coach and smaller vehicle estimates.
Amtrak’s estimate is based on ridership projected at 3,400 people, generating 423,500 passenger miles, and $173,000 in ticket revenue. Food and beverage revenue would generate an additional $1,000.
Cheaper options do exist. A state‐managed intercity bus carrier, using a 50-seat motor coach would cost $379,600. The same service using a 12- to 15-seat vehicle would cost $237,250. A local transit provider, such as GMCN in Bennington, does not have a 50-seat motor coach, but using a smaller vehicle could provide service between Manchester, Bennington and the Amtrak station in New York for $229,950.
Meanwhile, rerouting the existing Yankee Trails service between Burlington and Albany to include service to the rail station would not cost any additional money. It would involve replacing the airport stop with a stop at the rail station. It would not impact the $450,000 annual subsidy the state already pays to support the service.
Scott Coriell, spokesman for Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin, declined to comment on whether the governor’s 2017 fiscal year budget includes funding for additional bus service. He said those details will be available when Shumlin delivers his budget address on Thursday.
House Transportation Committee Chairman Rep. Patrick Brennan, R-Colchester, said his committee plans to examine the report on Wednesday morning.
“I expect there might some language in our (transportation bill) that moves us in that direction. I can’t say for sure because I haven’t seen the budget yet,” Brennan said.
The governor’s office has not shared any information with the committee about the governor’s transportation budget, he said.
“They have not,” Brennan said. “But we’ve talked about it and it has been discussed. They’re pretty tight-lipped about not spilling the beans on any budget stuff until Thursday afternoon.”
“We’ll go right back up to the room and start taking testimony from the secretary and what’s actually in it,” he added.
Brennan said much of the state’s focus in restoring passenger rail service, so far, has focused on the Burlington to Rutland connection. “The Albany to Bennington to Rutland route hasn’t received a lot of attention,” he said.
The committee will consider finding funds to create a southern Vermont connection to the rail station if the governor does not include it in his own budget proposal.
“I’m not saying we’ll do it, but I think we’re definitely going to take testimony on it and if it’s not in there consider doing it. I think it’s pretty important to the people down there,” he said. “It’s something that deserves a fair shake, I guess.”
Read VTrans report below: