Rail salvage bid: Steel for a steal
The remaining rails in the valleywide rail corridor are worth an estimated $1.2 million to $1.25 million, according to a salvage broker, but the steel can’t be yanked out and sold without going through some red tape at the state level.The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority, which oversees the corridor, has been weighing the pros and cons of selling the steel. The RFTA board of directors was no closer to making a decision on the issue Thursday, but members did agree the corridor needs to be surveyed, even if nothing else is done.The rail right of way is measured from the center line of the tracks. If the rail is ripped out, defining the parameters of the corridor will be difficult unless the property is surveyed first. The survey and title work could cost $100,000, RFTA CEO Dan Blankenship offered as a rough estimate.”To talk about doing anything with this right of way without knowing what it is doesn’t make any sense,” said Aspen Mayor Helen Klanderud, a RFTA board member.The prospect of selling the rails first surfaced last summer, when a Salt Lake City salvage company made an unsolicited $918,000 bid for the steel, offering to rip out the tracks and grade the railroad bed for use as a gravel trail.The steel is worth more than that, according to a broker who inventoried RFTA’s rail holdings.The estimated $1.2 million value of the material is net revenue – after the cost of removing the rail and restoring the railroad bed is factored in, Blankenship said.However, RFTA has learned that the State Historical Preservation Office must first OK the removal of the rails, according to Blankenship. The Colorado Department of Transportation put federal highway dollars into the corridor purchase, making it subject to the SHPO rules, he said. Getting SHPO authorization could take some time.”We don’t believe this process will stand in the way, ultimately, of removing the rails, but it could take up to six months to complete the process,” Blankenship said.Meanwhile, about 1,800 feet of track had already been removed to construct another section of the valleywide trail, from Emma to Hooks Spur Lane, before RFTA found out about the SHPO requirement. CDOT has been informed of the work; the removed rails have been stored.Blankenship has also looked into the potential revenue from leaving the tracks in place between Glenwood Springs and Carbondale to accommodate a dinner train operation. That could bring in some $50,000 to $100,000 a year, he said.To construct a trail completely off the railroad bed between the two communities, in order to leave those useable tracks intact, would cost an additional $3 million, RFTA estimates.Ultimately, the RFTA board is wrestling with either leaving the tracks in place as a placeholder for future commuter rail service or allowing them to be removed. Opponents of the salvage plan fear removal of the tracks will facilitate trail construction on the rail bed and effectively eliminate the possibility of rail service down the line.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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