Board drives spike through train plan | AspenTimes.com
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Board drives spike through train plan

Chad Abraham

Transit officials on Thursday killed plans for a tourist train between Carbondale and Glenwood Springs, voting instead to pull up the rail lines in the area and sell them for scrap.The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority board of directors’ decision means that after the removal and sale of the line this spring, the last vestiges of the valley’s historic rail system will be a one-mile stretch in Glenwood. It also moves the agency closer to its goal of establishing a valley-long trail along the Highway 82 corridor.The board’s decision came after one of the investors in the proposal said his group had not studied the idea of running a train a shorter distance. Kip Wheeler of Aspen said running an excursion train from Glenwood to the Orrison Distributing center outside Carbondale had been the group’s focus all along. It would have eventually generated $5 million in tourist dollars annually, he said.RFTA had made a counterproposal of running a train on a mile of track in Glenwood, but Wheeler said that wasn’t financially viable.Telling tourists that “we can take you to Wal-Mart” doesn’t have quite the same luster, he told the board. Wheeler was speaking on behalf of the plan’s principal, Matt Armitage, who could not attend the meeting because of the recent storm.Armitage’s investment group was prepared for significant costs relating to the rail cars and obtaining approvals from several government agencies, including the state Public Utilities Commission. Their plan was to run an Old West-themed rail attraction with cowboy actors and staged gunfights.But the RFTA board’s concerns about getting top dollar for the scrap rail and the costs associated with building a long-planned trail around troublesome sections of the track proved to be too much. They also balked at spending $50,000 for preliminary engineering studies of the plan, with some on the board saying the issue had already been examined.Were studies to continue, RFTA board member and Aspen Mayor Helen Klanderud said she envisioned a 30-year fight similar to the Entrance to Aspen debate.”Our focus needs to be on solving long-term transit problems,” she said. “There are difficult decisions ahead of us.”Fellow board member Arnie Mordkin, a Snowmass town councilman, asked Wheeler if the investment group would compensate RFTA for money it would lose by not salvaging the rail. Selling the rails could bring $650,000 to the agency’s coffers.”Obviously not up-front,” Wheeler replied. He mentioned the possibility of profit-sharing. Earlier, he said RFTA could expect a 10 percent return on its investment down the road.After the decision, Wheeler, who owns one of Aspen’s old trolleys, said he had not ruled out the possibility of a train or a trolley on the one-mile stretch in Glenwood, but he said the idea had not been studied.Rail supporter Jon Busch also attended the meeting and said he backed the proposal.”The problem I have with the decision is it was unnecessary to make at this point,” he said.Busch said RFTA could have saved money on trail construction by considering building the trail on the other side of the highway. That would make it more user-friendly for pedestrians and bicyclists, he said.”They’re basing everything on certain suppositions which have not received professional review,” Busch said. “If they had looked at spending $50,000 to review this, they could have found they could save $150,000 in construction costs.”The decision paves the way, so to speak, for trail construction near the Buffalo Valley restaurant. That is the last remaining spot in the valley that forces pedestrians and bicyclists onto the shoulder of Highway 82 because they have nowhere else to go. A trail there would improve public safety.Reached in Denver, Armitage said he and his investors were disappointed.”I understand that RFTA has to do what they’re going to do,” he said. “But … I think it would have been a good thing for RFTA and a good thing for the community.”Chad Abraham’s e-mail address is chad@aspentimes.com


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