RFRHA plans close look at rail | AspenTimes.com

RFRHA plans close look at rail

Donna Daniels

Members of the Roaring Fork Railroad Holding Authority board of directors have been invited to check out various rail systems as guests of the German government early next month.

After five days in Germany, they will travel to Switzerland to see rail lines in mountain resorts.

Heading to Europe are Pitkin County Commissioner Dorothea Farris, Carbondale Trustee Krista Paradise, George Roussos of Eagle County, and Glenwood Springs Councilman Jonathan Tripp. They will leave arrive in Dusseldorf, Germany on March 8, where they will visit rail factories.

The German government is picking up airfare and hotel accommodations for the first leg of the trip.

RFRHA is springing for the Switzerland leg – some $1,000 per person, said Executive Director Tom Newland.

Accompanying the valley contingent will be Ralph Trapani, Highway 82 project manager for the Colorado Department of Transportation, and representatives from RFRHA transit consultants MK Centennial and Otak.

The group will spend five days in Switzerland, traveling by train to the ski resorts of Davos, Zermatt, Wengen, Gstaad and the city of Lausanne on Lake Geneva.

In Zurich, they will ride the tlibergbahn, a high-tech rail line that carries people from downtown to a mountain park, negotiating 8 percent grades.

“It’s a good example of how a railroad system also interfaces with trails,” noted Newland. A bike trail is planned on the Roaring Fork Valley’s transit corridor.

Davos, in southern Switzerland, is a sister city to Aspen.

“It’s similar to the Roaring Fork Valley with traffic congestion. Employees live in the outlying villages and use buses,” Newland said.

Davos is looking to convert its regional heavy rail line to commuter-friendly light rail.

The city has a hotel bedroom tax which amounts to $4 to $5 per person. Guests also receive a pass which gets them a free ride on transit and a free swim in the local pool as well as admission to the town’s museum.

“It’s something to talk about in this valley to fund transportation,” Newland said.

At Davos, the group will board the Glacier Express for a scenic run to Zermatt, a car-free resort.

“We’ll look at how they get people and their stuff into town, and the mother of all interceptor lots,” Newland said. The lot, in the nearby town of Tasch, holds 6,000 cars, he said.

Newland made the same tour two years ago and was impressed with how the Swiss move people and skis. “I talked to the president of the chamber of commerce. He looked like Bill Clinton, but talked like Yeltsin,” Newland added. “We really got a good idea about how their transit works.”

In Lauterbrunen, the group will see a large transfer station which routes travelers to other car-free resorts. There, passengers leave the heavy rail system and transfer to cog rail lines to Murren and Wengen.

Gstaad has a particularly severe problem with traffic congestion on its main street, and the group will tour a recently constructed bypass that features “cut-and-cover” tunnels. Such a method has been suggested for a bypass around Glenwood Springs and a section of the rail line where it passes on the north side of Carbondale, as well as its approach into Aspen.

“There’s a whole lot to be gained from seeing things first hand,” said Roussos, chairman of the RFRHA board. “We do have a lot of unanswered questions.”

Of special interest to Roussos are pedestrian and auto access to rail stations as well as noise in the narrow Swiss valleys. “I want to understand how transit will operate in linear corridors and its compatibility with freight,” he said.

The group will return to the United States on March 18.

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