John Colson: Hit and Run | AspenTimes.com
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John Colson: Hit and Run

John ColsonAspen Times Weekly

I noted with interest this week that the idea of reviving rail travel in the Roaring Fork Valley is once again in the headlines, and I, for one, welcome its return.Not that it ever left the imaginations and hopes of those of us who believe that a commuter/tourist train between Glenwood Springs and Aspen has to be a critical component of the valleys transportation future.But, hey, the rail haters, who really are government haters trying to disguise their true natures, so mercilessly slaughtered the true nature of things back in the 1990s, its a wonder the word train was not stricken permanently from the local lexicon. If we cant say it, maybe we wont even think about it, would be the rationale there. The thought police would be proud.The plain fact is, we need a train up and down this valley as an alternative means of getting from one place to another, to augment the overtaxed and, in long-term cost analyses, more expensive buses and cars that already are choking the roads.Those who would deny the possibility of train travel to the local populace like to point to cost estimates of between $20 million and $30 million a mile to rehabilitate the old Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad rail bed that is now a publicly owned snake of right of way up and down the valley.And some at the lower end of the valley, particularly some backward types on the Glenwood Springs City Council, seem to think that a better use of the old rail corridor would be to turn it into just another road for cars to travel on.All this is just so much smoke from the smoldering fires of discontent buried deep in the bowels of a certain set that cant see beyond the end of its collective nose.For one thing, I dont buy those cost estimates mentioned above, at least not without a lot of close scrutiny. I suspect they are based on national estimates for starting from scratch, which would involve buying up or condemning rights of way for the rail corridor, which is something we would not have to do because we already own what we need.It is worth noting here that the city of Portland, Ore., is in the process of building a light rail system to link the center of town with outlying areas, and has completed three of the four legs of the system already. And they did it from scratch, although not with some strident opposition from the do-nothing-and-itll-all-be-OK crowd.So we know it is possible, even in these days when everything seems impossibly expensive and the do-nothings, who mostly seem to be wealthy obstructionists anxious to avoid taxes and any responsibility for societys welfare, have loud voices and armies of lawyers to tie things up in court.As for Glenwood Springs, it apparently hopes to use the rail corridor to make up for past errors in transportation planning, thereby compounding those errors. If the transportation planners had had their way back in the 1970s, either of the clogged thoroughfares through Glenwood (I-70 and Hwy. 82), or both, could have been routed away from the center of town, Grand Avenue would not be the mess it is today, and the rail corridor could be seen for what it is without all this distracting caterwauling.Then there are those who maintain, loudly, that the valley doesnt have the population to support rail. Well, thats certain hogwash. This concept is based largely on the belief that a train should be some kind of self-supporting business, a belief that the rest of the world recognizes as insane. Train travel, like all other kinds of travel, has to be subsidized and supported by government as a service to the populace.As for the valleys population, just look around. We have a bus system carrying more than 4 million passengers a year, and smothering from its own success. We have a central, four-lane highway artery that was obsolete even as it was leaving the drawing boards. We have businesses that normally would not dream of locating in a rural area such as this, but theyre locating here. We may as well face it, this area does not correspond to any sort of reality-based analysis or projections that hold true in other places.We need a train. All but the willfully blind or foolish can see that. And if there is one overarching truth about human beings, it is that we can do just about anything we set ourselves to, for good or ill.jcolson@aspentimes.com


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