Carbondale council dodges rail controversy
Carbondale officials made sure Tuesday night they didn’t get run over by the political equivalent of a runaway train.The Town Council deferred a decision on the controversial question of whether the old railroad track and ties between Carbondale and Glenwood Springs should be ripped up and salvaged.The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority staff has recommended to its board of directors that the rail be salvaged so the rail bed can be used for a trail. That would decrease the cost and increase the speed of construction of the remainder of a valleywide trail.But proponents of future commuter train service contend that removing the tracks will kill any chance of developing rail service. Building a trail on the rail bed, they claim, would make it politically impossible to rip out the trail for a train some day.The Aspen City Council supports leaving the rail in place. The Pitkin County Commissioners support salvaging it and building the trail on the bed.Carbondale council members concluded they need a more thorough discussion on the pros and cons before they take a stand, said Mayor Michael Hassig. It can be a divisive issue, he noted, so the board wants to make sure it’s well-informed.Carbondale officials hope to meet with Aspen officials to learn about their position. “We’re willing to hear what they have to say given they feel so strongly about it,” Hassig said.The Carbondale council was able to reach conclusions on two smaller issues related to the rail and trail debate. It voted 7-0 to support placing the trail on the rail bed where geologic pinch points and wetlands create constraints between Carbondale and the Catherine bridge. That vote also endorsed the idea of salvaging the rail in those pinched points, Hassig said.RFTA plans to build the trail between Carbondale and Catherine this summer. Its policy is to stay off the rail bed except when building the trail elsewhere in the rail corridor is constrained and 30 percent more expensive than using the rail bed.The council also voted 5-2 to support salvaging the rail the entire 15,000 linear feet between Carbondale and Catherine.RFTA’s board of directors hasn’t granted approval to remove tracks in that stretch. As of now, the trail would be paved over the tracks for 6,900 linear feet.The Basalt Town Council will take the next crack at the rail bed controversy. It’s scheduled to take up the debate Wednesday.RFTA’s board may decide what to do with the rail between Carbondale and Glenwood Springs this spring.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is email@example.com.
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