ESSEX JUNCTION — After more than a year of silence, the Amtrak Vermonter whistled its way into the Essex Junction station Monday morning.
The train, which runs from St. Albans to Washington D.C., was greeted at 9:44 a.m. by dozens of passengers with suitcases waiting to board and a large crowd of excited residents.
“I live just over there,” one resident said, pointing down the tracks. “I’m excited to hear the whistle again every morning.”
A welcome event hosted by the Village of Essex Junction brought numerous speakers up to a podium, including Unified Manager Evan Teich, Lt. Gov. Molly Gray and Village board of trustees president Andrew Brown.
“It is because of your efforts in helping to control the pandemic that we’ve been able to open the Amtrak station; we’ve been able to open the Vermonter,” Brown said to the gathered crowd.
Amtrak suspended its Vermont train service, the Vermonter and the Ethan Allen Express – which makes stops in Castleton and Rutland — on March 26, 2020 due to a significant decrease in ridership because of the pandemic.
In April 2021, Vermont Agency of Transportation announced passenger rail and inter-city bus service would return on July 19.
“We are very pleased to announce the restart of these vital transportation services for Vermonters and those who wish to travel to and from Vermont by train or bus,” Transportation Secretary Joe Flynn stated in April.
While its service was suspended, Amtrak refinished the Vermonter’s seating. Charlie Baker, director of the Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission, said the 30-minute ride from St. Albans to Essex felt like he was sitting in his living room.
Rep. Karen Dolan approached the podium Monday to read Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem, “From a Railway Carriage.” She invoked the “opportunity for wonder and adventure” that trains have inspired since their invention.
Several speakers used their time to advocate for upgrades to the Essex Junction station, which currently has a tiny waiting room, no public bathroom, a platform that is out of compliance with ADA regulations and boarded up windows.
“This station is in dire need of repair,” Brown said during his remarks. “This does not look like the largest boarding Amtrak station in the state.”
Teich noted that Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. is supportive of putting $3 million of federal earmarks, or funds designated without Congressional approval, towards the station’s upgrades.
Brian Sheldon, chair of Essex Junction’s Economic Development Commission, and Perry Martell of Vermont Rail System and Operation Lifesaver also spoke at the event.