WACR: VTRANS And VRS Revive Old Montpelier Row

Heavy Granite Traffic Spurs State to "Exhume" Long-Dormant Row in Order to Avoid Rebuilding Two Antiquated Bridges.

March – June, Montpelier VT — In late March, Vermont Rail System work crews kicked-off a project to reroute large-block granite traffic off of two aging bridges between Barre and Montpelier, on the State of Vermont-owned WACR. The project will add a 1.3-mile stretch of rail over an ROW running along the north edge of the Winooski River, and that has been dormant and trackless for 64 years!

The recently dormant MWR right-of-way (red) will soon be the primary route around the Winooski River bow between Barre and Montpelier. The slightly longer route completely eliminates the two questionable bridges from the granite-hauling equation. The east crossing’s 1902 147 ft-long pin-connected Pratt through truss bridge, and the west crossing’s 1925 230 ft-long three-span plate girder bridge will remain in service as a secondary route. {Google Earth, annotated by ANRP; inserts Kevin Burkholder.

The existing “southern segment” between the quarry and the main line includes three extended crossings over the Winooski River. The two oldest bridges (1902, 1925) carry the track from the river’s north side to the south, and then back over about three-quarters of a mile further up. The bridges on both ends show their age after decades of heavy use, harsh weather, and repeated flooding. Rolling a dozen granite cars per day over them was asking for trouble.

New route cheaper than old bridges

According to Amy Tatko, Public Outreach Manager for VTrans, “The bridges have structural challenges that make it more cost effective to relay the line … rather than continue to invest in them.” Relocating the railroad to the original MWR ROW on the north side of the river eliminates the two crossings altogether, and saves millions of dollars in repair and maintenance {Conversation with Tatko}.

Despite having to clear 64 years of tree and brush growth, and laying the new track, including switches at either end, the $2.9 million (2010 estimate) price to recover the MWR alignment will only cost 60% of the expense to upgrade the bridges.

The revived 1.3-mile “northern segment” will become the main line, while the southern segment over the pair of bridges will remain intact for use as storage or to serve any potential customers in the well-preserved depot block. The new alignment will be shared by the City of Montpelier’s bike trail.

The State of Vermont had maintained ownership of the ROW, and has been intending to revive it for this purpose since 2010. The State has amended the existing Vermont Rail System lease to include the new alignment. VRS is undertaking the physical construction work and plans on having the line ready for service by June. It is interesting to note that the portion of line being by-passed has been an active rail line for the last 171 years!

Montpelier VT

Contracts to supply breakwater blocks for several U.S. Army Corps of Engineers projects ranging from Florida to the Great Lakes have generated a solid traffic base from the Northeast Materials Group, operating from the Rock of Ages Quarry in Websterville (Barre Town) VT. Since 2010, Vermont Transportation Authority has been advocating for the alteration to of the 11-mile Montpelier & Barre Subdivision, comprised of original Vermont Central (VCR) and Montpelier & Wells River Railroad (MWR) alignments. {Kevin Burkholder photo}