By Guy Page
With the nation holding its breath in hopes of a final settlement of the looming national rail strike, now is a good time to assess how much and what kind of freight is carried on Vermont’s railroad tracks.
In 2018, approximately 46.7 million tons of freight moved into, out from,through, or within Vermont. Trucks carried about 84% of that freight, rail carried 15%. By 2045, the volume of freight (when measured by weight) is expected to increase 68% to 78.7 million tons. By 2045, rail is expected to move a larger share of the freight in Vermont, the December 2022 Vermont Freight Plan says.
With approximately 580 miles of active rail lines split nearly equally between private and state ownership, Vermont’s rail network encompasses much of the State. All of the lines are used for freight service, while two routes are used for intercity passenger rail service in addition to freight.
Railroads operating in Vermont include:
• Pan Am Southern (PAS) – PAS began in 2009 as a joint venture between Pan Am Railways (PAR) and Norfolk Southern Railway Company. Seven miles are within Vermont near Pownal.
• Canadian National (CN) – CN, North America’s fifth largest railroad by revenue, operates an important three-mile link to the New England Central Railroad at Alburgh, VT with CN’s Canadian rail network.
• Vermont Rail System (VRS) – Privately-owned, VRS’ operations in Vermont consist of five properties operating in a seamless fashion:
- Clarendon & Pittsford Railroad (CLP) – CLP operates 18 miles of
track between Rutland, Fair Haven, and Whitehall, NY. This line hostsAmtrak’s Ethan Allen Express service
- Washington County Railroad (WACR) – WACR runs between
Montpelier Junction and Barre to the New England Central Railroad.
- Connecticut River Subdivision of the WACR – WACR also operates
over the State-owned Connecticut River Division line from White RiverJct., to Newport where it connects to CP.
- Green Mountain Railroad (GMRC) – GMRC operates 50 miles of
State-owned track between Rutland and Bellows Falls. GMRC connectsto VTR and CLP in Rutland and with the NECR in Bellows Falls.
- Vermont Railway (VTR) – VTR operates the State-owned Western
Corridor between Burlington, North Bennington, and Hoosick Junction,NY where it connects with PAS. At North Bennington, a spur goes to Bennington. VTR hosts Amtrak’s Ethan Allen Express at Rutland.
• Canadian Pacific (CP) – CP is the 6th largest railroad by revenue in North America. The 24-mile segment in Vermont provides access to Brookport, Quebec and CP’s main line between Montreal and Searsport, ME.
• Genesee and Wyoming (GW) – A subsidiary of Brookfield Infrastructure, GW is the world’s largest short line holding company. It owns or leases 113 properties in North America. Two are active in Vermont: New England Central Railroad Company (NECR) – NECR operates 228 miles in Vermont that links Alburgh (connection to CN) and White River Junction to points south. This line hosts Amtrak’s Vermonter service between St. Albans and East Northfield, MA. GW also operates St. Lawrence & Atlantic (SLR) – SLR operates approximately 31 miles of track in northeast Vermont from Norton to North Stratford, NH connecting to CN in Richmond, QC and PAR in Auburn, ME.
Gravel is the top commodity by weight of goods moved in Vermont by all forms of freight (not just trains), but due to the relativelylow value of gravel, it is not among the top commodities by value. High-value goods, such as electronics and pharmaceuticals, are among the top commodities by value, but they are light-weight commodities, often moved by truck or air, and do not appear among the top commodities by weight.
Between 2018 and 2045, nonmetallic minerals used for construction materials (for example, gypsum, clay, and sand) and fertilizers, gravel, and food products are expected to increase in volume by weight. The value of electronics is expected to outpace growth in value of most other commodities through 2045.