A HISTORY OF THE  VERMONT RAIL SYSTEM

      In September of 1960,  management at the Rutland Railroad activated  a
plan that minimized the number of home  terminals  for  train  crews  as well
as the number  of  trains  that  would  operate.  The  operational  employees immediately reacted by calling a strike.  After  a  court decision was made in favor of the railroad, employees returned  to  work  in  November.  When the union   demanded   a   pay   hike   consistent   with   national   settlements,  management  refused,  leading  to  yet  another  strike in September of 1961. This   time,  the   Rutland   Railroad   applied  to  the   Interstate   Commerce Commission (ICC)  for  permission  to  abandon  the  line.   This   unexpected decision immediately caused an outpouring of protests. To close the line was universally  felt to be a  significant  detriment to  the  continued growth of the State of Vermont.  Not  only  were  there  many  businesses afraid they would need to  close  because of  their  dependence  upon  rail  transportation,  but hundreds of people would be left unemployed. 
The Vermont Rail System story begins with the ending of another.
       Governor Keyser began to negotiate with the Rutland Railroad officials. It   was his idea that if the Railroad was granted permission to abandon the line,   the State might be able to purchase all or part  of the  Rutland  Railroad  and   then sell or lease the  property  to  a  private  party. On September 18th, 1962,   the ICC  ruled  that  the  Rutland Railroad could abandon the entire line. That   November, Philip H. Hoff  was  the  newly elected Governor of Vermont. Hoff,     much like his predecessor Keyser, was  eager  to  restore  rail  service on the     former Rutland line and immediately sought out to purchase the right of way.

      By the summer of 1963, the Rutland Railroad officials were anxious to tear up the rails, sell the right of way,  and  dispose of  the corporation's remaining assets. The State was under a lot of pressure to  find  a  buyer or  operator for the property. Fortunately, 33-year old Jay L. Wulfson of East Brunswick,  New Jersey ,  became  interested  in  the  possibilities  of  operating  trains  on  the abandoned Rutland line.

Pursuing a Passion for Railroading

      Jay L. Wulfson had always loved trains since he was just a boy.  In  fact,  he was so enthralled in the industry, that at age 12, he built a small scale working steam engine and model railroad right  in  his backyard. Just  four  years  later, he attained his steam  engineer’s  license  making  him the youngest licensed engineer  in  the State  of  New Jersey.  Jay's  father,  Vladimir,  owned a dress factory called the  Mayfair Dress Company.  When Vladimir  passed  away, he left the family business to Jay, who quickly decided that dressmaking was not how he wanted to spend his future.

      In 1950,  at age 20,  Jay decided to sell  the  Mayfair  Dress  Company  to pursue  his  passion  for  railroading.  He, along with fellow railroad enthusiast James  Wright,  created  Wright  &  Wulfson,  Inc.  Together they purchased a Baldwin 4-0T engine to become Pine Creek locomotive No.1. In 1952, with the help of Pierre Rasmussen, an  agent  for  the  Central  Railroad of New Jersey, the Pine  Creek  Railroad  Museum  was  created.  In 1956,  Wright &  Wulfson were  contracted to develop a similar  amusement  train  at  Cowboy  City  on Route 33 in Howell,  New Jersey, and they set up a separate  company called the Cranberry Creek Railroad, Inc.,  to  build  and  operate  the  Copper  Creek Railroad, comprising a   1,700-foot loop of track.  When  Cowboy  City  started having  difficulty  paying  their  creditors,  they  closed,  and   all  rolling   stock returned to the Pine Creek Railroad Museum.
      In November of  1960,  Wulfson,  Wright, and  Rasmussen  purchased  the standard gauge  Middletown  and  New Jersey Railroad in  Middletown,  New York,  electing  Jay Wulfson as President. When Wulfson found out about the opportunity in Vermont, the challenge of restoring rail service to western part of the State intrigued him.  He left  the  Middletown and  New Jersey Railroad, selling  his  stock  and  handing  his  presidency  to  Rasmussen.  Today,   the Middletown  and  New  Jersey  Railroad  continues to operate freight, and the Pine   Creek   Railroad    was   donated   to   the   New   Jersey   Museum  of Transportation  which  currently  operates  in  Allaire  State  Park,  New Jersey.
The  Pine  Creek  locomotive  No. 1  was eventually sold to Walt Disney for his California theme park,  Disneyland,  where  it  operates  today  as the Ernest S. Marsh locomotive No. 4. 

      Jay sought out to become familiar with Vermont's territory. He contacted former  rail  customers  and  State  transportation  officials,  and  exhaustively studied the consultants’  reports, and everything else he could get his hands on that would help him put together  a proposal to operate the line. Wulfson, always an insightful and  positive-thinking  businessman,  concluded  that he could restore and profit from rail service with proper management decisions, adequate equipment, dedicated employees, and fast,  personal and reliable rail service.
​​A First in the Nation ​​

      On August 6, 1963, Wulfson signed a lease agreement with  the  State of Vermont to begin operations. President Wulfson, along with  Vice-President Harold T. Filskov, Charles Bischoff, and an ambitious team of railroaders, set off  to  run  the  Vermont  Railway  (VTR),  the  nation's  first  privately-owned railroad  operating  on  a  publicly-owned right of way. Soon after, Jay’s wife, Joan Wulfson, left East  Brunswick  with  their four kids, and a collie dog in a station wagon to drive overnight to  meet him in their new home State, their oldest son was only five years old.  “One  of  the first things we did was take an engine with a caboose, and went from  Burlington  to  Bennington,”  Joan Wulfson said, as she reminisced during an interview for the companies 50th anniversary. “People would come out running — they  hadn’t  seen a train in so long — and  so  we  were  waving  all  the  way  from  here (Burlington) to Bennington. It was a fantastic day.” Bright Red took over the rails on January 6th, 1964, as a modest GE 44 tonner  and  caboose  began  their  first day of operations in the Burlington Yard. By  the  end  of  the day, it  was  clear  that VTR’s future was as bright as its fiery paint scheme.  Plans  were  already  in place to add additional  motive  power.  With  daily  freight  trains  operating between Burlington and Rutland,  and  tri-weekly  service between Rutland and North Bennington, VTR set out to restore freight traffic along Vermont’s Western Corridor with a strong commitment to customer service.
Innovation and Expansion     

       In  1965,   the  VTR  became  involved  in  the  piggyback  trailer  service (loading truck trailers onto flat cars to be shipped by rail). Ramps for loading and unloading  trailers  were  constructed  in Burlington, Rutland, and North Bennington.   Jay   had  even  worked  with  manufacturers  to  help  design a trailer that  could  withstand  freight  train  movement as this concept was still  new to  the  industry.  The  company's  piggyback  traffic  continued  to grow,  and  by 1974, more than 10% of the road's traffic was trailer-on-flatcar. Wulfson  and  Filskov  realized  that more money could be made by leasing their trailers.

      At  one  time  the   VTR   had  more  than   six   thousand   Fruehauf  and Trailmobile trailers, which made it the seventh  largest  fleet  in  the country. With the extra revenue generated  from their trailer business,  the  Vermont Railway was able to purchase a brand  new  EMD  SW  1500 locomotive No. 501 in September of 1966, and in 1972 and 1974, they  purchased two brand new EMD GP38's No. 201 and  No. 202. This  was  a  huge  deal  considering that it was  absolutely  unheard  of  for  a  shortline  railroad  to  purchase  a brand-new engine, let alone three brand new engines.
   
       In November of 1972, the VTR purchased the Clarendon & Pittsford Railroad (CLP) from the Vermont Marble Company. The CLP serves the substantial ultra-modern  limestone  processing  plant  on  the  mountainside   above   Florence, Vermont, on a daily basis. OMYA soon became (and still is) the railroads biggest shipper. The local facility produces finely ground limestone  that  is  used  in the manufacturing of products such as paint, plastics, paper,  automobile parts and floor tile.  During  the first ten  years  of  operations,  the  Vermont  Railway's  net earnings   held   steady  at  about   $18,000  per  year,  with  some  increases  in subsequent years.  All profits were put back into the business.

      In  1982 the  Vermont  Railway  fulfilled  its 30-year obligation to the State of Vermont by reimbursing  the  State's  cost  of  the  1964 purchase of the former Rutland trackage.  This  enabled the State to retire this bond twelve years early. Considering  the  1963  consultant  reports  that  indicated  this line would never become a profitable operation, this  was  a  remarkable  achievement. In August
of 1983,  the  Clarendon  &  Pittsford  purchased  the  Delaware  &  Hudson  line between  Rutland  and  Whitehall,  New  York.  The   24-mile  line  soon became substantial  to  the  shipping  of  fuel  oil  and  gasoline  through  the CLP's main interchange point in Whitehall, NY.

A Legacy and a Lasting Mark

       In the fall of 1978,   Harold   Filskov   was  admitted  to  the  hospital for what they presumed to be a heart condition.  There,  he  was  diagnosed  with cancer. Although he pursued this courageous battle for nearly a decade,  the long-time Vice-President  and  General  Manager  was  unable  to  return  to  work  on  the railroad.  Around  that  same  time,  Jay  Wulfson  was  stricken  ill  in Texas while attending a conference of short line officials. ​Jay was able to recover enough to return to work, but sadly,  he passed away in  November of  1980. 
 

      Jay  Wulfson’s  unique,  innovative,   and  logical approach to running a railroad   has   not  been  lost  on  his  family, employees, customers,  state  officials,  and  the  railroad  industry. Together they accomplished,   as  Jay  used  to  say,  "What  the  consultants'  reports  said  we couldn’t do."

      When  Jay  Wulfson  passed  away,  the  board of directors, of which his oldest   son   David   (age 22)   was   elected   chairman,    appointed   John Pennington  as  President, and  David as his Assisting Vice-President. At this time, other officers included David Ploof; Director of Traffic; Charles Bischoff, Vice-President of Operations;  Fred Larose,  Superintendent of Car & Trailer Repairs; and  Jed Martin III,  Vice-President of  Equipment.  Soon  after,  Jed Martin III retired, and his two sons took over; Jed Martin IV, Chief Mechanical Officer; and Paul Martin, Superintendent of Motive Power. In the early 1980's, David's three  siblings,  as  well  as  Harold  Filskov's  son,  Robbie,  assumed supervisory capacities within the company.

      David  had  been  working  with  his father on the railroad since he was a young boy. He assumed Presidency  when John Pennington retired in 1999. Today, David continues to lead the  Vermont  Rail  System  under the motto that his father instilled in him, to "never ask your  employees  to do anything that you wouldn't do yourself."  Because  of this, he is a very well-respected businessman, as his father was. David's sister,  Lisa  Wulfson,  came back to the railroad after graduating college in 1982. She is currently  the Executive Vice-President & Treasurer. Mary Anne Michaels has been  part  of the VRS family  since  1999  and  is  currently  Chief  Financial  Officer.  Gary Wulfson created an excavating business that  works  closely  with the Railroad. Todd Wulfson became a  CFA  and co-owns a private investment advisory firm in Burlington. Robbie Filskov's son (Harold's grandson), Shane Filskov, became (and is currently) the General  Manager,  and  is  the  fourth generation in his family  to  work  in  the  industry.  This  new  team  would  lead  the Vermont Railway to its prosperous future.  
   
A Rail System for Vermont      ​​

       The Vermont Railway's purchase of the Green Mountain Railroad (GMRC) from president and significant stockholder Jerome Hebda in May of 1997, lead to the formation of the Vermont Rail System (VRS). At the time of the sale, the GMRC was well run, was operating with a lean and efficient staff, had a solid traffic base, and was debt free. Although the company had plenty of capital, there was never enough to keep up with the deteriorating track conditions. Slow train speeds and derailments became a costly and limiting factor to traffic growth.

      David Wulfson and Jerome Hebda worked together for many years. The VTR would lend the GMRC equipment and would help them whenever they could. The partnership between the two railroads grew into the opportunity to merge as one. The VTR was able to provide a strong maintenance-of-way policy with modern equipment and skilled employees to operate the GMRC more efficiently, which helped to improve business on the line. Hebda became a VRS Vice-President and moved to the company's headquarters in Burlington. Later, three more rail lines would join the Vermont Rail System.

      In September of 1999, the VRS began operations on the Washington County Railroad Montpelier & Barre Division (WACR). The line was formerly operated by the New England Central Railroad (NECR) and was struggling severely from the loss of so many customers. In April of 2002, the New York and Ogdensburg Railway (NYOG) joined the Vermont Rail System. The NYOG consists of 31.2 miles of track between Norfolk and Ogdensburg, New York, and was a part of the former Rutland Railroad. Jay Wulfson always had his sights on purchasing this line in the future of his company. When the NYOG joined the VRS, the surviving Rutland Railroad rails were finally reunited under the same operator. In 2003, the WACR expanded to another line between White River Junction and Newport, Vermont. The VRS affiliate immediately went to work providing regular service and making a concerted effort to win back previous customers and gain the trust of new ones. Three months later, the State of Vermont named the WACR (VRS) as permanent operator of the entire line. This section was the most recent addition to the Vermont Rail System, who later named the line, the Washington County Railroad Connecticut River Division.  
Vermont Strong!

      In 2012, the Vermont Rail System was honored by Railway Age Magazine, with the "Shortline of the Year Award" for their efforts in helping restore Vermont after Hurricane Irene tore through the State in August of 2011. Hurricane Irene was the most catastrophic storm to occur in Vermont's History. Houses were washed away, businesses demolished, irreplaceable personal items lost forever. Flooding destroyed roads and bridges, it decimated farms, and railroads were forced to shut down from damage.

      With the hard work and dedication of more than 250 men and women from the VRS, six different contractors and engineering firms, several vendors, the Vermont AOT, and neighboring railroads, they were able to repair over 100 washouts and six severely compromised bridges throughout the VRS, in the span of only three weeks. VRS crews worked tirelessly around the clock, from the beginning to the end. Their efforts during Irene strengthened their bond tremendously, not only with each other but with local businesses alike; especially the Vermont AOT (photos and details of the amazing Hurricane Irene recovery here). The community undoubtedly earned the title of "Vermont Strong." 


A New Generation of Leadership

      David has spent the last few years grooming the path for the next generation of railroaders. As President of the family business that he grew up into and spent his entire life working toward, the thought of handing the company over to someone new was difficult for David, until Selden came along. 

​​       Selden Houghton started his railroading career at age 16 on the Lamoille Valley Railroad. At age 22, he worked part-time at the Vermont Rail System between semesters at Clarkson University. After he earned his B.S in Computer Engineering, he worked at IBM while maintaining his part-time position at the VRS. At age 24, he took a full-time position at the VRS as IT Manager.​​ Selden, just like David, would look for opportunity and jump into it head first. He showed leadership qualities from day one, always stepping up when help was needed no matter what it entailed. His work ethic and desire to learn everything and anything that he could was evident, and with that, David built trust and confidence in Selden. After his outstanding efforts during the Hurricane Irene recovery, and numerous efforts after that, Selden began to work closely with David to prepare for his position as Vice-President, which he attained in 2017. David Wulfson has put his full confidence in the next generation to lead his company into the future.

Today's VRS leaders include Selden Houghton, Vice-President; Shane Filskov; General Manager; James Mattsen, Assistant Vice-President of Marketing & Customer Service; Charlie Lemieux, Chief Engineer; and George Zwolen, Chief Mechanical Officer.
​     David’s youngest daughter, Nicole Wulfson, intends to continue to learn and grow in the industry to keep the Vermont Rail System in her family. She became part of the VRS team when she was 21 years old. Though she has only been an employee for a few years, her railroading memories begin at a young age. She hopes to one day have the honor of carrying on the company's fundamental values, created by her father and grandfather. There are several 3rd and 4th generation employees who work at the Vermont Rail System. The company takes pride in the work environment it has created over the years; each one of its employees a part of the “family.”  

50 Years of Family Service​​

      On January 1st, 2014, the Vermont Rail System celebrated 50 years of continuous family-owned and operated service. A ceremony was hosted to dedicate the specially painted Locomotive 311 to Joan Wulfson (view article here). In the spring of 2015, the North East Association of Rail Shippers (NEARS) presented David Wulfson with the 2014 "Transportation Person of the Year Award".  The award is a special recognition given to an individual who has made a significant impact on the rail industry, especially in the Northeast region of North America, which NEARS represents. They chose David for the award because of the dedication and leadership he has shown, not only in developing new business on VRS lines, but also in working with shippers and connecting railroads to help them realize new business opportunities in other parts of the region (view full article). 
​​

Innovation for Now and the Future

       Today the VRS operates over 350 miles of track via the Green Mountain Railroad, Washington County Railroad Connecticut River Division, Washington County Railroad Montpelier & Barre Division, New York and Ogdensburg Railroad, Clarendon & Pittsford Railroad and the Vermont Railway. The company now has a family of over 150 dedicated railroaders. The VRS operates passenger services under the Green Mountain Railroad, running seasonal excursions and dinner trains. The VRS hauls over 25,000 freight cars each year, with nearly 90% of traffic serving Vermont businesses.

      The company maintains interchanges with: Canadian Pacific, CSX Transportation, New England Central, Central Maine & Quebec, Pan Am Southern, Norfolk Southern, and Canadian National Railway (via NECR), and hosts Amtrak’s Ethan Allen Express, which runs daily between Rutland, VT., and New York City. Their six interchange points allow customers to efficiently utilize a variety of rates and routes that best suit their individual needs.  
​       The Vermont Rail System's newest innovation was made in early 2017 when they purchased two SD70m-2 Locomotives, No. 431 and No. 432. The highly efficient locomotives are the most modern in the VRS fleet. They have microprocessor-controlled features that will allow the VRS to move greater tonnage over its lines while using less fuel, ultimately making it more environmentally friendly.

       Their plans include extended passenger service to Burlington and numerous infrastructure upgrades in the future.  With the same dedication to customer service it has had since its inception, the Vermont Rail System looks forward to expanding its customer base while they continue “Serving America’s Industry with Pride.”