Concerns derail discussion on Old West train | AspenTimes.com

Concerns derail discussion on Old West train

Chad Abraham

Trains, be they of the dinner or commuter variety, are controversial in the Roaring Fork Valley.A representative of a group that wants to run an Old West-themed train between Glenwood Springs and Carbondale found out just how thorny the issue can get during a Roaring Fork Transportation Authority meeting Thursday in Carbondale.The RFTA board couldn’t even agree on whether it wanted to study the idea of allowing Heritage Excursion Train Inc. to use its tracks. In the end, after two votes, the board decided to allow its staff 90 days to examine a host of issues.Heritage Excursion representative Matt Armitage told the board his group would like to lease three miles of tracks – from a rail station at 27th Street in Glenwood Springs to the Orrison Distribution plant outside Glenwood. Heritage Excursion would pay RFTA $30,000 annually for 10 years.The Old West train would be aimed at families and offer a “living history on the railroad,” Armitage said. On an open-air railcar, a host dressed in cowboy garb would explain the history of the area. Actors portraying legendary characters such as Billy the Kid and Calamity Jane would also be on board, and plans could also include staged gunfights, Armitage mused.The group would charge around $13 a ticket for the trip, which would last an hour. There would be three trips a day on Saturdays and Sundays.The service operator lined up for the enterprise already has a contract with the Colorado Historical Society, and Heritage Excursion has all the equipment ready to go, he said.Referral business would drive revenues, Armitage predicted. He also mentioned that raft companies may be interested in loading a railcar with rafts. Tourists then could float back to Glenwood.There are many issues that need to be resolved, he conceded. Federal Railroad Association officials would have to inspect the lines and approve a system in which vehicles would be stopped at a few intersections to let the train, traveling at 10 mph, pass.A planned trail between Carbondale and Glenwood would have to be relocated at certain spots, which would cost RFTA about $800,000.And then there is the issue of insurance.Armitage said insuring the rail line would cost $5 million. But RFTA received a letter from the Union Pacific rail company, which has an ownership stake in the 27th Street station, that says insurance would cost $25 million. Armitage said that figure is unfeasible and said Union Pacific shouldn’t dictate the use of RFTA’s right of way.”They’re acting like they own the line,” he said.An in-depth study of all the issues could cost around $20,000, according to RFTA chairman Dan Blankenship. Board member Anne Freedman, representing the Basalt Town Council, balked at that expense, noting the agency is in a “very tight budget situation.” She said it would not be fiscally responsible to undertake the study or lease the railbed, especially in light of the fact that bus fares are rising.”We should cut this off now,” she said.Aspen Mayor Helen Klanderud, also a board member, mentioned a few of the benefits. The rails would stay in the ground, which is the city of Aspen’s goal, and an “ultimate trail” between Carbondale and Glenwood might be built faster, she said. Dan Richardson, a Glenwood councilman, noted that it would be a financial boon to his city and RFTA, and said the agency has a good opportunity to study the proposal.At one point, Klanderud asked whether it was feasible to run the train all the way into Carbondale. She said running the train to Orrison, a regional liquor distribution center, would perhaps not be all that historical. Armitage said it is possible to run it to Carbondale.The meeting then grew contentious as other board members said the idea of running a dinner train from Glenwood to Carbondale has already been voted on and rejected. Pitkin County Commissioner Dorothea Farris briefly rested her forehead on the table in frustration.But Klanderud said that Thursday’s proposal was different.”We’re talking about leasing land for $30,000 a year,” she said.The board then voted 5-2 to continue studying the idea, but the motion failed because at least six votes, or a super majority, are needed. Freedman and Snowmass Village Councilman Bill Boineau voted against further pursuing the idea, saying it would be wasteful and that RFTA should focus on its stated mission: trails and transit.Klanderud urged Boineau to reconsider his vote and said it seemed reasonable to at least collect the necessary information.”We’ve had these discussions for a couple of years,” he responded. “The light needs to go off.”Nevertheless, he said he would change his vote, and another motion was made to reconsider the issue. This time it passed 6-1.Among the issues RFTA staff will study are: rail signals or flagging at intersections, traffic congestion as the train meanders by, parking at 27th Street, insurance, trail costs, staff time costs and an analysis of salvaging the rails.Chad Abraham’s e-mail address is chad@aspentimes.com

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