‘Now is the time’ | AspenTimes.com

‘Now is the time’

The Roaring Fork Transit Authority’s decision to reconsider tearing up and selling the old railroad line between Glenwood Springs and Woody Creek couldn’t have come at a better time, according to a salvage company.”If you’re going to sell it now is the time,” said Michael Van Wagenen, vice president and general counsel of A&K Railroad Materials. “We’re seeing the highest steel prices in 40 years.”The Salt Lake City-based A&K tentatively offered RFTA $900,000 for 33 and a half miles of railroad track. The firm, which touts itself as the country’s largest supplier of new and used railroad materials, would tear the track up itself and grade the rail bed smooth for that price, according to its offer.Van Wagenen said the $900,000 proposal was roughly twice the amount the firm offered to RFTA about two years ago. Steel prices have gone up drastically, largely because of an economic boom in China.He said he figures prices will be coming down soon because the market is responding to such high demand. Scrap metal is getting sold off and manufacturers are responding.A&K is uncertain if the railroad would be sold for reuse somewhere else or scrapped if it was salvaged in the Roaring Fork Valley.A&K renewed its offer for the old Rio Grande Railroad track July 1. RFTA’s board of directors held a brief discussion on the proposal at its July 8 meeting and decided it didn’t want to sell.RFTA was sharply criticized in some letters to the editor after the decision was publicized. Some critics said it made no sense for the agency to discuss the idea at a time when it’s pinching pennies and forecasting huge budget deficits. RFTA may go to voters in November seeking additional sales tax revenues to operate the valley bus system.The RFTA board decided to revisit the rail salvage issue at its Aug. 12 meeting. The decision has nothing to do with the election, said Dan Blankenship, RFTA chief executive officer.”I think my board is really interested in doing the right thing, but it’s not always easy to determine the right thing,” said Blankenship.He acknowledged that media coverage of the issue has some people asking how RFTA could give up “easy money” in a time of need. But that money might not be so easy, he said.RFTA has consulted with salvage experts and determined that the railroad track prices might be lower than what A&K figures, according to Blankenship. The last time the agency consulted, the price it could get was about $10,000 a mile, or a total of about $340,000.Blankenship acknowledged that steel prices have risen since then.”We really wouldn’t know [the value] until we went out and got bids,” he said.The decision won’t necessarily be decided by dollar and cents. RFTA’s board has decided in the past to keep the rails in place to serve as a reminder that the corridor was purchased primarily for transportation.Thursday’s debate will undoubtedly interest both rail supporters and trail proponents. Those who want a trail say the cost would be drastically reduced if the rail bed could be used. Rail proponents contend it would be politically difficult to ever resume passenger train service if a trail is built on the rail bed.RFTA’s next board of directors meeting will be held at Carbondale Town Hall at 8:30 a.m. Thursday.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com

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