New Tennessee Pass railroad operator pitches Minturn: ‘We are seeking a public partnership’

Colorado Midland & Pacific in public outreach phase of planning process to revive railroad

John LaConte
Vail Daily

After executing an operating agreement with Union Pacific railroad for the Tennessee Pass line through Eagle County, Colorado Midland & Pacific is now in the public outreach phase of its planning process.

Colorado Midland & Pacific community liaison Sara Cassidy visited Avon Town Council on Jan. 12, where she received no comment from council members (they later voted in favor of hiring an attorney to handle railroad matters), and Jan. 20, Cassidy visited Minturn, where she recorded questions about the railroad from Town Council and the community.

Colorado Midland & Pacific seeks to revive the Tennessee Pass line, which stopped running trains in the 1990s.

Cassidy said to that end, Colorado Midland & Pacific and its parent company, Rio Grand Pacific Corp., has been in conversations with Union Pacific, the line’s owner, for many years.

“On one hand, we don’t want to rush a really long process, it takes as long as it takes, but on the other hand, we’re really excited,” Cassidy said. “We didn’t think that we would get an agreement to operate this, after years of conversation. So now that’s it’s finally here, we’re really excited to get it going. It will take as long as it takes, but we’re also feeling really motivated to want to hear from everyone in the next few months, if we can.”

Cassidy encouraged elected representatives to pass along questions from constituents.

“Even the skeptics, it’s all very helpful to us, and we want to hear it all,” she said.

Seeking public partnership

Among the skeptics was town of Minturn Mayor John Widerman, who questioned the railroad’s ability to recoup the large investment that it will take to make the railroad operable again. That price tag for refurbishment is an estimated $278 million.

“There’s a classic finance quote, … ‘If it don’t make dollars, it don’t make sense,'” Widerman said, referencing DJ Quik.

Cassidy said Colorado Midland & Pacific believes there are commuter and passenger opportunities in the 160-mile corridor between Eagle and Canon City, and also thinks there will be commercial freight opportunities on the line, as well.

The Tennessee Pass rail line is seen near the abandoned town of Gilman near Minturn. In a Jan. 20 meeting, the Minturn Town Council expressed concern with a plan to revive the rail line. (Special to the Daily)

With regard to commuter and passenger opportunities, “if the local communities have similar ideas that Rio Grand Pacific has … we are seeking a public partnership with communities along the line to make this happen,” Cassidy said.

Widerman said he doesn’t see the feasibility of a commuter track seeing much use for workers between Lake and Eagle counties, and he struggles to see the upside for a public entity, like the town of Minturn, to support Colorado Midland & Pacific’s efforts.

“It does seem like a very good opportunity to play to a lot of the communities on the needs of the local transits, the things that really make sense that are meaningful to communities, and garner a lot of support around those, it does feel as though a lot of the communities would be doing a lot of the heavy lifting as far as writing grants or creating support around these types of programs, and then effectively funding the tracks, potentially just to have commercial uses operate on them,” Widerman said. “It’s a big question mark as to how much support does a community put forward to help support an end goal that likely is not in line with the intended results.”

Next few months

Cassidy said Colorado Midland & Pacific will continue to engage in public outreach over the next few months, and also is engaging in private conversations regarding commercial interests on the line.

“We’re giving ourselves a few months to listen, and it’s really to be determined from there,” she said.

Cassidy said the company is aware that there’s going to be a lot of questions and concern regarding what’s going to be moving where on the line, how often and how fast.

“What we hope to do is work with the community so that we’re transparent about what it is that we’re pursuing, and gain trust, so that it won’t be something that we have to do without any community support,” Cassidy said.


See more