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Burlington Company Aims For Commuter Rail Renaissance With 'Self-Powered' Cars

A test of AllEarth Rail's individually-powered rail cars at a demonstration in Barre.
AllEarth Rail, courtesy
A test of AllEarth Rail's individually-powered rail cars at a demonstration in Barre.

The future of Vermont rail often looks north to Canada and the reintroduction of The Montrealer for passenger service between Vermont and Quebec. But a Burlington company is aiming to expand rural commuter rail service within the state with individually-powered rail cars that could restart local rail service between communities across the state.

David Blittersdorf, CEO of solar panel systems supplier AllEarth Renewables, has now turned his attention to commuter rail and created a company called AllEarth Rail

The company has done its first test of the new type of rail cars whose compact diesel engines in the floor of each car allow them to move along train tracks individually, like a trolley, or linked together like a traditional train.

"All I'm doing is bringing the hardware to the fore," Blittersdorf said. "Now that the trains are here, we just have to figure out how to operate them."

Blittersdorf thinks it will take an integrated transit authority, and not competing bus and rail systems, to be cost-effective. He says he's talking with transit companies about working toward such an authority.

"Really, you should be on the train between Burlington and Montpelier, and then get on a short-haul bus to get through Montpelier and Barre," he said. An integrated transit system would align busses and trains to get Vermonters where they need to go.

His motivations, ultimately, are about the environment. "It's for sustainability and reducing carbon in the world. We have to become more efficient."

Blittersdorf told Vermont Edition that the test was about allowing Vermont's existing freight railroads to "get comfortable" with the company's cars and how the company plans to turn its test fleet into a viable transportation option for Vermonters.
Broadcast live on Thursday, Oct. 25, 2018 at noon; rebroadcast at 7 p.m.

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