BELLOWS FALLS, Vt. – There’s an old Linda Ronstadt song with the line: “The train don’t go by here no more.” Well Linda, our train is back.
After being suspended March 26, 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Amtrak’s Vermonter resumed its two daily stops, one southbound at 12:30 p.m. and one northbound at 5:26 p.m. in Bellows Falls Monday, July 19. The train connects Washington, D.C. with Essex Junction, Vt., and many stops in between. When asked about the train’s importance to the town and the region, Rockingham Development Director Gary Fox said, “It’s huge.”
Bellows Falls has a long history with trains. In the golden days of steam engines, three railroads met in Bellows Falls. They connected Montreal and Vermont to New York and Boston. It is said that in the early 1900s, 100 trains a day went through town. From 1922 to 1966, six National Grocery milk trains daily connected the creamery here to Boston.
From 1964 to 1984, a collection of steam locomotives were gathered as a tourist attraction called Steamtown where the Industrial Park stands today, and the Green Mountain Railroad ran excursion trains to Chester with vintage equipment for years, even still running on occasion today.
When Amtrak took over national passenger service May 1, 1971, the Montrealer, an overnight train from Washington, D.C. to Montreal, was the only Amtrak train serving the town. A day train, the Vermonter, replaced it in 1995.
Fox says ridership has seen steady growth over the past 10 years. He attributes it to the popularity of “remote working” with “climate and pandemic immigrants” looking to live in Vermont and still work jobs tied to urban areas. He also sees the train providing “destination tourism.” He sees development of the Island area of Bellows Falls as tied to the trains.
The town, Bellows Falls Downtown Development Association, and the Great Falls Regional Chamber of Commerce together organized an event to celebrate the return of the Amtrak train. Directors thanked all their volunteers. Bunting was hung, the Little Big Band played jazz tunes, and Smokin’ Bowls and Jamaica Jewelz provided food for a surprisingly large turn out.
Deborah Collier, director of the Chamber, said, “This is exciting to have Amtrak coming back opening up the world to us again, and us to the world.”
State Legislators Becca Balint, Mollie Burke, Michelle Bos-Lun, Laura Sibilia, Carolyn Partridge, and Leslie Goldman attended.
Blaint said, “It was a sad time for all of us when the train stopped running.” She told how her father used to sing old railroad songs and how she once took a train across the country after which, “I understood my nation in a different way.”
Goldman noted, “Trains are vital to reducing carbon emissions.”
Rail fans Andrea and Scott MacScott brought their 5-and-a-half-year-old son Alexander, dressed as an engineer, all the way from Balentown, N.Y. About 50 riders arrived on a shuttle bus from Brattleboro to take the train back to a similar celebration there.
Two southbound passengers boarding, Colin Parrinello and Olivia Wendel, were going to New York City. Wendel said, “We’re very excited.”
Fox notes that the Vermont Legislature has approved a five-year rail plan that will add a second train connecting us again with Montreal and possibly the Valley Flyer will extend from Greenfield, Mass. to White River Junction with a stop here as well.
Also Ludlow is moving its train station to the Okemo Mountain Resort parking lot in anticipation of a rail connection to the trains that stop in Bellows Falls.