BY WILSON RING
BRANDON-WEST RULAND — Vermont Transportation Agency officials are warning about people walking along the newly refurbished railroad line between Burlington and Rutland where Amtrak trains are conducting full-speed test runs.
The Transportation Agency’s Toni Clithero made the comments Tuesday, a day after there were two close calls between Amtrak trains and people walking along the active tracks in West Rutland and Brandon.
In the West Rutland case, a couple was walking their dog and barely escaped being hit by the train. The crew had been unable to stop. It can take the trains up to a mile (1.6 kilometers) to halt.
“These people and their dog just got out of the way at the last second,” said Clithero, who focuses on rail safety for the Transportation Agency. “The crew didn’t know whether it hit anyone. So this was absolutely terrifying.”
In the second case on Monday, April 4 in Brandon, a teenage boy who was also walking a dog, was spotted by an employee of the Vermont Rail System, which leases from the state the tracks that will be used by Amtrak when service resumes this summer, Clithero said. He was on the tracks but was not threatened by an oncoming train.
Last month a group of young people was seen on the tracks in Shelburne.
Train crews conducting the test runs can reach 59 mph (95 kph) — the maximum speed that will be used when the train is carrying passengers on the route.
Clithero said the diesel electric Amtrak trains run on continuously welded steel rails and the “whooshing sound” is behind the engine, not in front of it.
“It could sound like wind blowing through the leaves of a tree,” she said. “By the time you hear it, it’s probably going to be too late.”
Amtrak said officials, including the Amtrak Police Department, are hosting presentations at schools and other locations to share rail safety messages ahead of the resumption of Amtrak service between Burlington and Rutland, according to a written statement Tuesday.
The Vermont Transportation Agency has been working for years to upgrade the tracks and other rail infrastructure on the 75 miles (120 kilometers) of rail between Burlington and Rutland.
Amtrak is due to begin service this summer between Burlington and New York, via Rutland on the Ethan Allen Express. In addition to Burlington, the train will stop in Vergennes and Middlebury.
The Ethan Allen Express has run between New York and Rutland for years.