Lamoille Valley Rail-Trail
For many years trail advocates and community representatives have campaigned for the creation of the Lamoille Valley Rail-Trail in northern Vermont. At 96 miles, this proposed trail would be the longest in New England, connecting the Vermont towns of St. Johnsbury, and Swanton. This trail project has seen some opposition from various interests, but is finally making progress.
The 96-mile rail corridor, originally named the St. Johnsbury and Lake Champlain Railroad, was completed in 1877. During its prime years of use, the rail line was bought and sold several times, ending in the hands of the state in 1973, when it was renamed the Lamoille Valley Railroad. In 1994, after 14 years of declining traffic, rail use on the Lamoille Valley Railroad was halted.
In 1998, the State's Senate and House Transportation committees reconsidered the railroad and its potential for future use, asking for proposals from groups interested in using the rail corridor. At this point, trail advocates, led by the Vermont Association of Snow Travelers (VAST), expressed their desires to create the multi-seasonal, Lamoille Valley Rail-Trail. Their proposal was met with the opposing position of Vermont RailLink, an organization that wished to restore the railroad for freight operation and a potential scenic railroad. With both proposals in mind, Vermont's Agency of Transportation (VTrans) conducted an inventory and analysis of the conditions of the corridor and the expected cost of restoring it to a functional railroad or trail.
After an intense review of the proposals and analysis of the corridor, the legislature announced that railroad use was no longer a viable option for the Lamoille Valley corridor and they were in full support of the recreational trail proposal. Real progress was seen for rail-trail enthusiasts in the fall of 2002 when VTrans began to discontinue service along the railroad and, because the line was never formally abandoned, sent a request for permission to railbank the corridor to the Surface Transportation Board.
Railbanking is defined as a voluntary agreement between a railroad company and trail agency to use an out-of-service rail corridor as a trial until a railroad may need the corridor again. Railbanking is very important because it is an alternative to railroad abandonment, which often results in the railroad corridor reverting back to adjacent landowners and creating great problems for trail-builders. Railbanking maintains the integrity of the corridor and prevents the possibility of it being broken up into small pieces. Rail ties and tracks may be removed, but the corridor itself will remain intact.
VAST has accepted responsibility to maintain the rail-trail for an all-season, multi-purpose use. They are working with VTrans and a consortium of local government entities to develop a lease and management plan. The section of trail between St. Johnsbury and Morrisville will probably be the first section to open, followed later by the trail connecting Morrisville and Swanton. The Lamoille Valley Rail-Trail will be of great benefit to Vermont. Not only will its east-west orientation help to connect the state's existing north-south trails, it will also bring great economic benefits to the state. Tourists will visit the trail throughout the year and its length will encourage visitors to stay in the area for multiple days.