Colorado DOT Initiates Passenger Rail, Transit Study

Re-establishing a 191-mile long leg of passenger rail service in Colorado’s Yampa Valley will be the aim of a $5 million study recently initiated by the Colorado Department of Transportation – a study that will also look at improving statewide transit connectivity.

[Above photo by Amtrak]

The agency said local communities along the Yampa Valley want to examine the potential to re-establish passenger rail specifically along the Union Pacific (UP) railroad route that runs from Denver through the towns of Winter Park and Steamboat Springs, ending in Craig – a passenger rail route that ceased operations in 1968.

That passenger rail service would also likely be coordinated with and complement transit bus service in the mountains, including Colorado DOT’s own Bustang system.

Photo by the Colorado DOT

The study will also incorporate the “just transition” focus espoused by Governor Jared Polis (D) – a planning process that takes into account the economic and environmental concerns of affected communities, maintains freight and passenger rail connectivity, and transitions away from carbon-intensive fuels such as coal.

“A just transition for communities moving away from coal production, cutting traffic and reducing pollution are some of my administration’s top priorities,” the governor said in a statement. “Expanding passenger rail service to the Yampa Valley can help on all these objectives.”

The vision for mountain rail – which Colorado DOT said it has been working on for months – became a real possibility because of recent developments that include dramatically decreased coal train traffic on UP rail lines, leading UP officials to be open to the possibility of hosting more passenger rail on its mountain lines.

UP lines already serve the California Zephyr and Winter Park ski trains, but there is capacity for more passenger service, including from Denver to the towns of Steamboat Springs, Hayden, and Craig.

“We have an unusual confluence of favorable conditions in place right now,” noted Colorado DOT Executive Director Shoshana Lew. “This is a rare opportunity for us to get significant funding for a project that we know is very doable.”

She added that the “next steps” is this process include stakeholder input with communities along the route, counties, recreation industry partners, and UP.

Independently, Colorado DOT said it is working with the Front Range Passenger Rail District on planning for Front Range Passenger Rail, which would provide complementary service from Pueblo through Denver to Fort Collins and ultimately to Wyoming and New Mexico.

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