VRS: Middlebury Reroutes Delayed

VTRANS Halts Progress on Middlebury Tunnel Project Before Detours Go into Effect. VRS Crew Qualifications on NECR Suspended; Five Leased Locomotives in Burlington With no Work.

25 March, Montpelier VT – The Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) announced that the planned construction project of the Middlebury rail tunnel has been placed on hold indefinitely due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

In response to Governor Scott’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” directive, the VTrans Secretary ordered the safe and orderly shutdown of all construction projects that are not deemed critical to the public health, safety, or national security. This applies to nearly all projects currently under construction or planned to begin with the start of the construction season, including the Middlebury Bridge & Rail Project.

Critical juncture reached

The VTrans project to replace two nearly century-old rail bridges in the center of Middlebury VT with a pre-cast tunnel has been active since 2017. The past two years have seen extensive site development along the 3,550-ft alignment.the tunnel-placement phase of the project, in advance of the tunnel’s construction. During the three-month construction phase, Rutland – Burlington is to be rerouted to Bellows Falls and then via White River Jct./Montpelier/Essex Jct. on NECR. The detours were to commence 04.May, and run into August.

VRS had already begun crew qualification in the cab with NECR crews, to familiarize them with the NECR Bellows Falls – Burlington leg. These trips have been suspended until the project restart date is established.

Site work slowed

The construction suspension will be in effect to a minimum of 30.April and will likely be extended as deemed necessary by the Governor. It will likely equate to the number of days delay in the start of the detour.

Contractors had been working the past few weeks to stabilize/reinforce the slopes along the rail corridor to support the excavation needed to install the tunnel beginning in late May. Only work necessary to leave a project in a safe and stable condition will be allowed during the shutdown.

Another blow for Amtrak

Unfortunately, the delays in the project will also impact the planned extension of Amtrak Ethan Allen service to Burlington. The Middlebury project is crucial in the completion of the “Western Corridor” (aka, VRS Northern Subdivision) and will inevitably push out the Amtrak route extension.

VTrans had leased five locomotives from Progress Rail (GMTX GP38-2s 2601, 2612, 2617, 2649, and 2687 departed Northport, NE on March 30, waybilled to VTR in Burlington, VT) to assist in moving the freight over the detoured route between Burlington and Bellows Falls, over NECR’s Burlington Subdivision, Roxbury Subdivision, and a portion of the Palmer Subdivision. Those locomotives are en route and will likely be held in Burlington, pending the launch of the project {VTrans, VRS, Progress Rail}.