From March RPA newsletter
By Jim Souby
The concept of a passenger rail line in the Interstate 25 corridor along the Rocky Mountain range has been repeatedly shelved by the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) and other organizations. While there was popular support there was not enough economic justification
in the 1990’s and early 2000’s to win voter confidence for a ballot measure, which is required by Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) amendment for expenditures beyond an annually constrained state budget. Even TABOR and its more ideologic supporters may not be enough to derail this urgently needed, high capacity transportation service in the third decade of the 21st century, however. The footprint of I-25 is now reaching saturation north and south of Denver causing highway expansion costs to equal or even exceed estimated rail construction. Congestion often brings motorists to a virtual standstill while BNSF Railway and Union Pacific Railroad freight trains and Denver Regional Transportation District (RTD) electric commuter trains pass by. This has awakened the public to the need
for efficient, reliable alternatives to automobiles and buses.
Spurred on by far thinking political leaders and advocates at the Rail Passengers Association (RPA)
and the Colorado Rail Passenger Association (ColoRail), a bipartisan majority created the Southwest
Chief & Front Range Passenger Rail Commission (Commission) in 2017. The thirteen-member Commission is charged with sustaining the Amtrak Southwest Chief train in southeastern Colorado and facilitating north-south passenger rail up and down the front range to connect communities and link with Amtrak’s Southwest Chief and California Zephyr.
Eventually, the service aims to provide more frequent service to New Mexico and return regular service to Wyoming. Except for the occasional California Zephyr “detour” to the Union Pacific overland route when the Moffat Tunnel route is closed for maintenance, Wyoming’s passenger service ended when the Amtrak Pioneer was eliminated in 1997, and New Mexico only connects with Southern Colorado once each way on the Chief.
The Commission includes representatives from: Amtrak, Union Pacific, BNSF, RTD, CDOT, a community leader from southeast Colorado and two rail advocates. It filed its first report to the Colorado Legislature December 1, 2017 as required by the statute. That report can be viewed at: http://colorail. org/sw-chief-front-range-rail-report .
While transportation funding is a controversial issue in Colorado, and passenger rail is opposed by some who mistakenly believe that highways are completely funded by the state and federal gas tax (only half so, it turns out), the public mood is changing. A ColoRail poll in March 2017 found that over 61% of all Coloradans favor spending large amounts of any new transportation funds on front range passenger
rail. They also strongly favor rail rather than bus service by the same margins. In the front range, over 63% in the Colorado Springs area, and 74% in the Denver and Boulder metro area voters agree.
Jim Souby is President of the Colorado Rail Passenger Association and serves on the Board of the Rail Passengers Association. He also serves on the Colorado Southwest Chief & Front Range Passenger Commission.