Pitco, Aspen clash in rail debate | AspenTimes.com

Pitco, Aspen clash in rail debate

A fight between rail and trail proponents mushroomed yesterday to engulf towns and counties.The Pitkin County commissioners announced they support ripping the steel rails and wooden ties from the old Denver and Rio Grande Railroad corridor, selling the scrap and building a trail on the old rail bed.”We continue to be an advocate for future use of the corridor for rail or other rapid transit,” said a letter from the commissioners. “However, we do not believe that the continued physical presence of rails is necessary for this future use to be realized.”The commissioners’ move offsets the Aspen City Council’s earlier decision to oppose tearing up and salvaging the rail. The council made a strong statement in support of keeping the rail in place to preserve the corridor for future commuter rail service.But Commissioner Dorothea Farris claimed that the symbolism is meaningless. Farris said she is a rail supporter but believes a train won’t be a reality for years. In the meantime, the rail bed should be used for a trail, said Farris and the other commissioners.”If anything, public use of the corridor will be a strong reminder to all that it is already a public transportation corridor,” said the county’s letter.Glenwood weighs inThe fate of the rail is more than philosophical. The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority is working on a plan to complete a valleywide trail from the Hooks area of Basalt to Glenwood Springs.RFTA staff is seeking direction on whether the rail can be ripped up and the rail bed used. The answer has multimillion-dollar implications.Farris announced the county’s preference yesterday at an RFTA board of directors meeting, following Aspen’s announcement on Monday.Bruce Christensen, a RFTA director and Glenwood Springs councilman, said the Aspen council’s position angered a lot of his constituents.”Now we’re not only fighting between rail and trail advocates, but our towns are starting to get angry with one another,” Christensen said.Prohibiting use of the rail bed will have the practical effect of driving the cost of a pedestrian trail too high to complete, he said. But salvaging the rail and using the rail bed could cut millions of dollars off the price and speed the job.Letting “rusty rail” that could never be used for a commuter train sit in place for symbolic reasons doesn’t make sense, Christensen said. He didn’t say if the Glenwood Springs council has formed an official position yet.Klanderud: Coalition ‘falling apart’Aspen Mayor and RFTA Director Helen Klanderud said Aspen wasn’t trying to get out of the commitment to build the trail. She said she still supports RFTA’s goal of completing the route by 2010, but she doesn’t want to rip up rail so the trail can be built faster.Klanderud said rail and trail advocates need to concentrate on working together to accomplish their goals.”I’m not really sure how this divisiveness got started,” she said. “I think it’s unfortunate that the people that worked together to acquire the corridor are now falling apart.”Jan Girardot, president of the Western Colorado Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society, presented a petition in support of keeping the tracks in place and preserving the corridor for a train. He said the petition was signed by 146 residents of the Roaring Fork Valley and western Garfield County, 68 people from elsewhere in Colorado, 49 from elsewhere in the United States and two from other countries.Spring cleaningAlthough the RFTA board didn’t make a decision about what to do with the bulk of the rail, representatives of other towns indicated which way they are leaning.RFTA Director and Basalt Councilwoman Anne Freedman said she felt that a commuter train could legally be developed when the time comes even if a trail was developed on the rail bed. However, the “political reality” is it would be difficult to restore train service if the rail is removed and a trail is built on the rail bed, Freedman said.Ironically Freedman expressed her opinion just 16 hours after the full Basalt Town Council said it didn’t have an official position on the issue and needed a work session on Feb. 23 to form one.The Carbondale council is also scheduled to debate its official stance later this month.The RFTA directors probably won’t decide what to do with the rail between Carbondale and Glenwood Springs until April. Decisions were made that affect the corridor between Carbondale and Hooks (see related story, “RFTA board struggles ).Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com

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