The state of Colorado has taken an important recent step toward the return of passenger rail along the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. On February 23rd, the state Senate approved a bill to continue the mandate of the Southwest Chief Commission to maintain & expand passenger service in the south of Colorado, while expanding the Commission’s authority to explore further passenger rail along the entire Front Range.
The Southwest Chief Commission was first created in 2014 as a response to a proposed move of Amtrak’s Southwest Chief train from its current path thru south-eastern Colorado to a more southern route. Segments of the Chief’s track thru Kansas, Colorado, and New Mexico had deteriorated and the host railroad, BNSF, was not planning in investing in repairs. The track conditions forced the passenger train, which runs between Chicago and Los Angeles, to operate at much slower speeds and so it faced either cancellation or a move into Oklahoma and Texas. A coalition that involved the affected states, Amtrak, the local communities served by the Southwest Chief, and BNSF were able to secure funds to upgrade the track and save the train. Having saved the Colorado stops of Lamar, La Junta, and Trinidad, the Southwest Chief Commission has since worked toward creating a Pueblo connection to the Southwest Chief. For more on the route and other Colorado passenger options, see the Westernsreboot.com post Colorado Train Trips.
The bill to continue and expand the mandate of the Commission, to be renamed the Southwest Chief and Front Range Passenger Rail Commission, would see it present a plan for border-to-border service to the Colorado legislature by the end of 2017. Those borders would be Wyoming in the north, and New Mexico in the south – potential Colorado stops along such a line, north to south, could include Fort Collins, Loveland, Longmont, Boulder, Denver, Castle Rock, Colorado Springs, Pueblo, and then Trinidad.
The Senate-approved bill now moves to the state House for assent. The expansion of existing passenger rail is seen as an efficient and environmentally-responsible response to the continuing population boom along Colorado’s Front Range, thus reducing reliance on the already-strained north-south I-25 highway. As well, many urban planners have come to recognize the economic stimulus that a major transit hub such as railroad hub provides to a given community, as evidenced by this CNN report on Denver’s refurbished Union Station:
Colorail is the lead passenger rail advocacy group in Colorado (this writer is a member) and supports the previous work of Southwest Chief Commission and now its potentially expanded role. For information about this non-profit group’s efforts across the state, the issues involved, and various successes, visit the website Colorail.org.
(Copyright – Chad Beharriell)