MONTPELIER — The freight trains are running behind schedule because of delays associated with material availability, but Vermont Rail Systems’ rehabilitation of a long-dormant railroad right of way is back on track and a key crossing is being completed this week.
That work, which required closing a short section of Barre Street to through traffic starting Monday, is one of the last significant components of a project officials now hope will be finished by the end of August.
Selden Houghton, vice president of Vermont Rail Systems, had hoped that freight trains would already be using a 1.25-mile section of the former Montpelier & Wells River Railroad line. However, he said Tuesday, delays in obtaining some materials — most notably railroad ties — slowed work and altered the project’s completion from some time last month to the end of next month.
Houghton said most of the new rail — ties and all has been installed along the old right of way that runs between the existing rail crossing on Route 2 near Agway to the new crossing that is about to be installed near Caledonia Spirits on Barre Street. The latter crossing will connect the new and old sections of a rail line that will allow Vermont Rail Systems to bypass two aging railroad bridges ill-suited to handle the weight of fully loaded freight trains.
The Barre Street crossing is expected to be finished and the road reopened to through traffic early next week. For now it is closed, while city workers upgrade water and sewer lines that will run beneath the railroad crossing that will be installed above them. The utility work — including the installation of three 70-foot-long steel sleeves — is expected to cost nearly $125,000. That unbudgeted expense will be covered by tapping reserves in the city’s water and sewer funds.
Upgrading the utilities in the railroad right of way was required to accommodate the crossing that will shift rail traffic to the Sabin’s Pasture side of Barre Street and connecting to the rail line that has been installed along the new bike path that runs past the Route 2 crossing and ends at the base of Gallison Hill Road. The new section of rail line crosses the bike path twice — once near the crossing now being installed and again near the Route 2 crossing that will be upgraded as part of the project.
Barring any additional delays, Houghton said, rail cars should begin dumping stone ballast along the skeletal tracks by mid-August, and a surfacing crew will level the crushed stone that helps stabilize the tracks, assists with drainage and prevents vegetation from encroaching on the rail line.
By then, Houghton said, the new Barre Street crossing will have had time to settle and can be paved and new crossing signals installed as the last of the work concludes.
Though the work has taken longer than anticipated, and Houghton declined to discuss the cost, he said it was considerably less expensive than the alternative.
“We avoided having to replace two bridges,” he said.
One of the bridges is not far from the Route 2 crossing and the other is behind the House of Tang restaurant.
Houghton said both spans could handle the weight of unloaded trains, but would have required replacement to take the pounding associated with loaded trains. That, he said, made the old railroad right of way — one that steered clear of the Winooski River — an attractive option.
The affected section of Barre Street will remain closed to through traffic through the weekend and possibly into Monday.