ColoRail, the leading state-wide passenger rail advocacy group in Colorado, will host its Fall meeting this Saturday, September 22nd. The session will be held at The Guild, located in Englewood, and adjacent to Denver RTD light rail. Doors open at 8am, with the meeting starting at 8:45 and concluding at noon. This writer has been a ColoRail member since 2016 and will be in attendance.
Speakers at Fall meeting will provide several significant reports. Jill Gaebler, chairperson of the Southwest Chief and Front Range Passenger Rail Commission, will map out a community-by-community strategy to establish north-south passenger service from the Wyoming border to that of New Mexico. David Krutsinger of the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) will share findings from CDOT’s State Freight and Passenger Rail Plan, and give an update on negotiations to preserve Amtrak’s Southwest Chief line thru the state. Andy Karsian, CDOT’s Legislative Liaison, will detail two transportation measures on the upcoming November ballot.
The Southwest Chief runs between Chicago and Los Angeles and has three stations stops in the south-east corner of Colorado; Lamar, La Junta, and Trinidad. Ironically, that long-distance train is under threat from its own carrier; Amtrak. Citing costs for track upgrades and the installation of a safety system known as Positive Train Control (PTC), Amtrak’s management has proposed substituting buses on a 600-mile section of the Southwest Chief’s route between Dodge City, Kansas, and Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Rail advocates have decried this plan, arguing it will strip passenger rail service from rural citizens who rely on it, and that potential riders will forego a schedule that moves from train to bus back to train, thus eventually killing the Southwest Chief route.
PTC uses GPS, Wi-Fi and radio transmissions to prevent train collisions and engineers from travelling too fast. On a 219-mile section of the BNSF freight line that the Southwest Chief uses between Dodge City and Albuquerque, Amtrak is the only service and thus responsible for any upgrades and implementation of PTC. Previously, a federal exemption from installing PTC on that section has been granted. Rail advocates argue that Amtrak’s management is erroneously citing PTC implementation as a rationale to cut long-distance trains serving rural communities.
One other major item for discussion at the Sept.22 meeting will be 2019 Winter Park Express (WPE) service. Run by Amtrak, and offering a return trip between Denver’s Union Station and Winter Park resort, this January to end of March train takes skiers, snowboarders and recreationalists 67 miles west of Denver to enjoy the slopes without driving. 2019 will mark the third year for the re-started service.
For further information about the work of ColoRail, visit the official website at COLORAIL.
(Copyright – Chad Beharriell)