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A Weekend of Green Mountain Railroad Excursions
Part 2: White River Flyer, White River Junction-Norwich, VT
From Essex Junction via Amtrak's Vermonter
August 14, 2004
By Matt Melzer of TrainWeb.com

Up with the birds again at 5:30 AM, I had my usual breakfast of champions and soon set out for my second day of riding the Green Mountain Railroad. The sun decided to shine for the first time in days today! The thought of decent lighting for photography excited me. I caught CCTA bus route 2 from Cherry Street in Burlington at 6:10 AM. I found it funny that ridership was better than it was yesterday, during the work week. I arrived at the Essex Junction Amtrak station (a rather plain building that used to be painted in loud rainbow colors) at 6:43 AM. Over 25 passengers were waiting to board train 57, Amtrak's southbound weekend Vermonter, this morning. I said hi to the caretaker Jim, and the train soon arrived right on time at 7:05 AM. I took a seat in the first coach, 44601. The interior of this Amfleet coach appears unrefurbished, but the car features newer restrooms (not Capstone, however), and, most importantly, electrical outlets at every seat. I noticed that the New England Central Railroad has been slowly upgrading their infrastructure, adding signals in many places. But the rails are still jointed, the speed limit is still 59 mph, and all train movements are still governed by track warrants. In Amtrak's recent update to its five-year capital plan, the NECR was identified as being in long-term danger of downgrade or abandonment. If Union Pacific could abandon their line west of Phoenix, Arizona, nothing is sacred. Until railroads change their business plans to make saving redundant infrastructure appear financially prudent in the short-term, the government should create tax incentives given the clear overall benefit to the economy and homeland security of maintaining numerous open lines of transport. If the NECR is abandoned, it will make it all the more difficult to implement future high-speed rail to Montreal or offer alternatives to highway transportation in the region (lest we forget that all freight shipped by truck would increase pollution, congestion, road depreciation, and incidence of traffic accidents).

After a brief stop in Waterbury, we departed Montpelier Junction at 7:51 AM, four minutes late. A National Park Service volunteer boarded there to begin his route commentary. Jim told me that Bob also happens to be a railfan! With the sun shining brightly today, the appearance of the scenery was like the difference between night and day, so to speak. I went to the cafe car (the same Club-Dinette in which I traveled yesterday) to purchase a sparkling water and a yogurt. When we departed Randolph at 8:26 AM, we were still four minutes late. But padding saved the day, and we arrived into White River Junction at 9:05 AM, on time. True to his word, Brian from the Green Mountain Railroad was at the ticket office in the station to hand me my ticket. Because the White River Flyer is new, Green Mountain Flyer ticket stock was used! I soon encountered Chris McKinley, the caretaker for the White River Junction Amtrak station and a very knowledgeable local railfan. As he showed me around the station, the White River Flyer trainset pulled in. A new canopy north of the station is under construction, which will house the adjacent Boston and Maine 2-2-0 steam engine 494 and a caboose.

I was greeted by the Harry, the Passenger Representative, who began boarding at 9:45 AM. I took a seat in the second of three coaches. Like yesterday, I sat in the coach with a snack bar and tables (though only bottled water was sold on this train). The lead coach was modified to be a cab car, and would head up our northbound movements. The rear two coaches quickly filled (with no passengers allowed in the cab car). There were again many families with many kids! The ridership was spectacular given that this is the first summer of operation for the White River Flyer. We departed at 10:08 AM, eight minutes late. After crossing the White River and passing through an industrial area, we soon began to follow the Connecticut River on this very scenic and lackadaisical route. Harry gave a brief history of White River Junction, a small railroad town. The current White River Junction station was built in 1937, having replaced three that burned. The town is currently served by the New England Central, Washington County, Guilford, and Claremont and Concord Railroads. Our train follows the Washington County route.

The trip through a forest and along the river was extremely beautiful, especially on such a clear day, with crisp fresh air coming in through the windows. The river was peaceful and serene, disturbed only by the occasional canoe or rowboat. The route also goes by some charming houses, a mobile home park, and a hiking trail. We arrived at the Montshire Museum of Science at 10:25 AM, on-time, and almost everyone detrained! A museum representative was on hand to greet the guests. This is a wonderful arrangement between two tourist attractions that serve a very similar demographic, and elevates the White River Flyer from a trip for its own sake, to actual practical transportation. We continued north, passing the Ledgerd Bridge, which carries the Appalachian Trail. After passing the Dartmouth Yacht Club, we arrived into Norwich, which consists of an abandoned freight house, station, and spur line. The engineer walked the length of the train to the engine for the return trip, and we departed at 10:36 AM, six minutes late. Four minutes later, we were back at the Montshire, from which the engineer refused to depart early. After idling for five minutes, we departed at 10:45 AM.

Harry told me that GMRC is looking to extend the White River Flyer northward, possibly to Wells River, as it is still a "developing" route. We passed over a trestle that Harry explained was the site of a horrific wreck in 1887 in which forty to fifty people died. This led to Congress passing the Railroad Compliance Act of 1893. Barely visible in the distance was a hydroelectric dam. As we returned over the White River, I noticed another trestle for the Claremont and Concord over the river. We arrived back into White River Junction at 11:04 AM, four minutes late. I walked into the quaint downtown village to admire the architecture and browse a vintage clothing store. I returned to board the 12 noon run, and the train filled to be almost as full as it was on the last trip. Most of those passengers detrained at Montshire, while many from before reboarded. We again arrived back into White River Junction four minutes late, at 1:04 PM. Surely the schedules will need to be adjusted at the next schedule change to reflect actual running times on each segment (though it probably wouldn't matter much to most passengers). I walked a local railroad-themed greasy diner, the Polka Dot, for a salad and a cheeseburger, then returned to the station for the uneventful 2 PM run. I used that opportunity to make sure I photographed scenic highlights that I had missed on the first two runs. After arriving back into White River Junction just after 3 PM, I passed the time reading and having a good chat with conductor Sean about local rail operations. The 4 PM run departed empty, with myself as the only passenger! That wasn't surprising, given that this trip serves mainly to pick up the remaining passengers at Montshire (of which today would be a couple dozen). Our final trip arrived into White River Junction at 5:04 PM, just as every other trip had arrived at four after the hour.

    Today's Consist:
  • Clarendon and Pittsford EMD GP-38 #204
  • GMRC Coach #1319
  • GMRC Coach/Snack Bar #1301
  • GMRC Coach/Cab #1317
    Today's Crew:
  • Engineer Scott
  • Conductor Sean
  • Passenger Representative Harry

I called Amtrak to inquire about my northbound train 54, and was disappointed to find out that it wasn't expected until 6:53 PM, fifty-three minutes late. It was essentially as late as it was yesterday. It was for that reason that I was frustrated, but it was for the same reason that I couldn't be surprised nor waste my energy worrying. I'll get there when I get there! As Chris Guenzler's motto goes, "Every trip is an adventure!" And so, I sat on the station platform for two hours, sitting, reading, waiting. Train 54, Amtrak's northbound weekend Vermonter, did not depart until 7:15 PM, an hour and fifteen minutes late. Lucky for me, all cars were open, and I enjoyed a comfortable seat in the lead coach, which was a sixty-seat Metroliner Business Class car with footrests.

I went to the cafe car to purchase a Gardenburger for dinner, which I enjoed quietly as the sun disappeared over the green mountains. We rolled through Randolph without stopping at 7:55 PM, an hour and thirteen minutes late. Within a half-hour, we arrived into Montpelier-Barre, where I detrained to join family members. The station caretaker was kind enough to drive me into Downtown Montpelier, ending another fantastic day of riding Rails Around Vermont.

Click on the below links to view each set of photos:
Set #01 - Amtrak Southbound Vermonter
Set #02 - White River Flyer
Set #03 - White River Flyer

Click here for the previous segment of this travelogue:
Part 1: Green Mountain Flyer, Bellows Falls-Chester, VT

Click here for the next segment of this travelogue:
Part 3: Champlain Valley Flyer, Burlington-Shelburne, VT

Questions? Comments? E-mail matt@trainweb.com .

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