‘Glitch’ muddles dinner train idea
An apparent administrative glitch within the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority has fueled suspicions among some people that the agency has a bias against restoring train service.RFTA has asked train operators this month to send it proposals if they think they can economically operate a train that hauls diners, sightseers or freight between Glenwood Springs and Carbondale. The deadline for responding to that “request for proposals” is Feb. 28.But the general manager of a dinner train in Nebraska said he asked for the application packet from RFTA but never received it. Bruce Eveland, general manager of the Fremont Dinner Train, said RFTA Chief Executive Officer Dan Blankenship told him Feb. 4 that an application would be sent. It never arrived.Eveland said he would like to give RFTA the benefit of the doubt and assume his request was forgotten. On the other hand, he said, it does raise doubts about the legitimacy of RFTA’s request for proposals.Jon Busch, a rail proponent from Aspen, wasn’t as diplomatic.”I’m smelling a rat,” Busch said. “They didn’t contact people who expressed an interest.”Blankenship said an administrative mistake was made that resulted in the failure to respond to Eveland.”It’s a mistake on our part – one I freely admit – but it wasn’t intentional,” Blankenship said.He said he sent an e-mail to Mike Hermes, RFTA’s director of properties and trails, on the night of Feb. 4 asking him to send the application packet to Eveland. Hermes never saw the e-mail, according to his boss. Blankenship said he doesn’t know if there was an e-mail problem or it was simply an oversight on Hermes’ part.The issue was already emotionally charged. Some Roaring Fork Valley residents want the tracks ripped out of the old corridor and replaced with a trail. They see the investigation of a dinner train as a waste of time for an unrealistic idea.Proponents of a future commuter train claim construction of a trail on the old rail bed would jeopardize their dream. They want the tracks preserved – perhaps by starting a dinner or tourist train.Public debate over the rail corridor heated up six months ago. Some rail proponents have accused the RFTA staff of being biased against a train. Blankenship said this incident shouldn’t reflect on RFTA’s credibility.After RFTA was contacted about the problem yesterday, RFTA immediately mailed Eveland a packet. Eveland will receive an extension of approximately three weeks to determine if he wants to make a formal proposal. That offsets the lost time, Blankenship said.About 30 application packets were mailed to train operators who were identified by an RFTA consultant as parties with a potential interest, according to Blankenship. A few more applications were sent to parties that requested them. In addition, the application could be downloaded from RFTA’s website.Blankenship said Eveland never called him after their early February conservation to say the application didn’t arrive.Eveland confirmed that. He said he realized the application was also available from the authority’s website but didn’t download it. Other pressing business issues prevented him from following up, he said.Eveland said he initially heard about RFTA’s request for proposals from a train advocate in Colorado. He said he wanted to learn more to see if a legitimate business prospect existed.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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Facing a nearly more than $700,000 shortfall in transportation funding, Upper Roaring Fork Valley elected officials decided to dip into their savings account to continue all funding commitments for a year.