Dear Editor:The Aspen City Council’s Monday vote to keep the rail tracks intact to keep the dream alive is very heartening – except that Aspen could be doing vastly more to walk the talk. Building the leg of rail from Brush Creek to downtown Aspen will do infinitely more to make rail a reality than insisting that the tracks in the lower part of the valley stay in place. When a segment is built, people use it, it becomes very popular, and more people want it. Just as a couple legs were built in Denver and now voters want more.The ridership currently exists to make rail economically viable between Brush Creek and downtown Aspen, the resources exist to build this leg and the city has a federally and state approved record of decision. All that is missing is the leadership and political will.As for the fear that selling the tracks will ruin all hopes for future rail, here are some misconceptions that might be considered:Myth 1: “Tearing out the tracks now will make future rail an impossibility.”Denver did not have pre-existing rails in the part of Denver where rail took off. Rail became so obvious a solution that people put rail down in existing city streets.Myth 2: “The current tracks are crucial for commuter rail.”Building commuter rail that is competitive with the car requires completely new tracks and bed. According to Rails to Trails Conservancy, removing old rails gives commuter rail a head start. Myth 3: “Dinner trains and speeder cars will pave the way to viable commuter rail.”There is no proof whatsoever anywhere in the country that using old tracks for slow moving specialty rail cars has made it any more likely that rail will become a reality. Myth 4: “The trail will create a powerful constituency against implementing rail.”The ROW was purchased with the commitment to putting in a trail. A trail will be sharing that linear swath of land. In addition, people who live in Pitkin County are already enjoying a trail on the ROW throughout Snowmass Canyon.Myth 5: “Saving the rails is important for historic reasons.”There are many other meaningful ways to preserve rail and its history in the valley. There could be rail sections and rail cars preserved in towns with interpretive signs commemorating the role rail has played in the valley, and could play again. Myth 6: “Saving the rails is crucial for ever having rail in the valley.”The crucial ingredients where rail has been built have been a clear need, political vision and will, community support, resources, and public entities able to implement large-scale projects. Aspen holds all the cards in this debate, not the rusting symbolic rails on the right of way. So if you are a mom with a stroller, a cyclist tired of criss-crossing 82, a tourist-related business owner, a commuter wanting a better alternative or someone who just hates to see millions of our dollars sitting idle, then call your City Council person and urge to vote to finish the Rio Grande Trail now.Jacque Whitsitt MidValley Trails Committee chairwoman
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Aspen’s dirty downtown alleys are enough of a blight that the city government is taking the initiative to clean them up this week.