Rail service possible

Steamboat, Craig join Rocky Mountain Rail Authority


— The cities of Steamboat Springs and Craig have joined a group exploring high-speed, passenger rail service that could include a spur extending from South Routt to Craig.

The Hayden Town Board also has voted to join the multi-jurisdictional governmental entity known as the Rocky Mountain Rail Authority. Hayden's membership will become official once it's ratified by the authority, which is exploring the possibility of modern rail track along the Interstate 70 and Interstate 25 corridors. The system could continue into Wyoming and potentially tie in to similar rail networks already in the works in Utah and New Mexico. It is anticipated the I-70 stretch would include two major spurs: one to Aspen and another through South Routt, Steamboat and Craig.

Routt County already has joined the authority. County Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush said she is glad that all other incorporated municipalities in Routt and Moffat counties have decided to join.

"As with any board, the more representation you have from a region, the stronger that region's voice is," Mitsch Bush said.

Doug Lehnen, mayor pro-tem of Castle Rock and that city's representative to the rail authority, agreed.

"It's very important to have both county and city municipalities involved because it's a combination of both that it will affect," Lehnen said. "I know exactly what I want out of Castle Rock itself."

The first step for the rail authority is a $1.6 million feasibility study, being paid for by a $1.2 million grant from the Colorado Department of Transportation and matching funds from the member jurisdictions.

"Hopefully, by mid-April, we'll have that contract finalized and start the study," Lehnen said.

The study is to take no longer than 18 months. The biggest question it will answer is cost, which one rough estimate puts at $11.3 billion. But Lehnen said it also will address rail technologies, ridership and station locations.

"The feasibility study will show us what we need to do," Mitsch Bush said. "If the study shows that it's feasible, then we can move to the next level. If I had to bet, if I was a betting person, I would guess that there's some level of feasibility."

Getting on track

The speed with which a high-speed, passenger rail system could be installed will depend on how much money is available and when.

But neither Lehnen nor Mitsch Bush is predicting the system could come on line quickly. Mitsch Bush said a realistic timetable for the Rocky Mountain Rail Authority's work likely is 15 to 20 years.

The Colorado Transportation Finance and Implementation Panel recently released a report estimating that without a new source of funding, there will be a $51 billion funding shortage to sustain Colorado's existing transportation infrastructure by 2030.

The panel also identified new sources of funding, but Lehnen said Gov. Bill Ritter has made health care and education higher priorities for the time being.

"A lot of us are thinking that we might not see any money until 2011," Lehnen said.

Another possibility is federal funding, which is why the Rocky Mountain Rail Authority hopes its feasibility study will help it earn a High Speed Rail Corridor Designation from the Federal Railroad Administration. The federal rail authority already has awarded 10 such designations, but only plans to award one more. Colorado is competing with Texas for the final spot.

"If we can get that designation, that will mean money," Mitsch Bush said.

Mitsch Bush said passenger rail service would provide many benefits to the Yampa Valley, including reduced pollution and traffic.

"If we had high-speed rail, that would certainly contribute to relieving congestion," Mitsch Bush said.

She noted that sitting in traffic leads to reductions in worker productivity and less time spent with family.

"It's a cost to our businesses, a cost to our economy and a cost to our country," Mitsch Bush said. "Transit and rail solve these problems. : It's harder to think long-term, but we have to."


taxslave 9 years, 2 months ago

The Royal Gorge Bridge was built in like 90 days and you say 20 years? What's up with that? I want to be on the "feasibility" panel. It doesn't take 18 months to do this job and it DOESN'T take that much money to "check it out".

I think Craig and Steamboat should hook themselves up with the existing rail between them and the rest of the state can do their own work to join in.

A project like this is far greater than the bogus "stimulus" package the Congress just passed. Fasten your seat belts everyone, the economy has become a roller coaster. You will see 4/gal gas in the near future, another good reason for the rail service. A coal fired train would be cool but I don't think there is a scrubber system for the exhaust. New Energy Bill from Congress has cut the emission from coal close to 40% in next 7 years. The Supreme Court has ruled AGAINST Cap and Trade. Never count your chickens before the eggs are hatched.

According to Senator Allard, two days ago, I asked him myself, he is unaware of any permits for new coal fired power plants in Colorado nor has he been briefed on anything in the works...but he "wished".

Both City and County budgets need to keep the rising fuel costs in mind. Hyper-inflation is in the works and I see less revenue on the "bottom line" for everyone.


WileyWapiti 9 years, 2 months ago

How cool would rail service be? It sure would cut down the commute, it would take care of many of the issues facing our roads and funding for the same. Unfortunately, I am not too sure that people would take advantage of the rail service unless the schedule was such that it covered or included a commuter train running a few times a day. I used to catch commuters from Wisconsin down to Chicago quite often and they were convenient - but the population up there justified the costs. It might seem like we have many people commuting every day (and we do for our size), but the sheer numbers that would be required to cover the cost of rail service - even a light rail system - would fall extremely short to cover the overhead. Similar to the airport, I believe that a spur through Steamboat would be seasonal. A huge nation-wide marketing campaign would need to be involved in order to carry this service for more than a year - Ski Train, Fall leaf viewing, Wildlife Viewing etc.

Regardless of the reality of the service, I am totally for the idea and would use it myself - I hope the study finds this feasible and I am glad we are looking into it.


redneckgirl 9 years, 2 months ago

I would love it! It would give me more time in the day with my kids. The "drive" gets really old but I do it because Steamboat pays much, much more for my job description than Craig does. My benefits are better as well but my fuel bill is crazy. I still make more in Steamboat even with my wear & tear and my fuel bill. I just make sure I get my gas in Steamboat, it's always cheaper here than in Craig. I think that's the only thing cheaper though.


citizensforgrowth 9 years, 2 months ago

Why would locals not have to contribute toward a train they would use?Were you just joking?I think using all the ideas suggested here is a good way to fund rail service.A combination of grants,ski lift pass taxes and maybe an airline ticket surcharge to get some year round funding.Having said all that I have to agree with Silverspoon that a much more viable and sustainable place for rail would be the I70 corridor.Not that I wouldent like to see rail in our valley but we just dont have the population base to support or justify the dollars that project would require.I totally agree with bloggyblogg that we need to be farsighted with our energy policy.Getting off our oil dependency should be our priority.Its been a long time sinse our government made desisions based on what was best for our country,both stategically and economically.


Globe 9 years, 2 months ago

OUR U.S. Congress just awarded a 40 Billion Dollar Military contract to Air Bus. Boeing plans to lay off around 15,000 workers because of this. We are shooting ourselves in the foot at almost every level. It makes me laugh to think that anyone around here actually thinks there is going to be enough jobs and money left in this country to produce half the projects that people around here are talking about. A rail system would be fantastic, but it will never happen. I wouldn't be used enough to make it economically feasible and unless gas hits 5 bucks a gallon most wouldn't even consider it except for novelty purposes.


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