RFTA planning to study whetheror not to study rail track salvage
Faced with a potentially ugly battle between rail and trail supporters, the Roaring Fork Transit Authority did what governments often do best Thursday – it delayed a decision for more study.In fact, the RFTA board of directors did one better than that. It directed its staff to study how much it would cost to conduct a study.At issue is the possible salvage and sale of up to 34 miles of old railroad track between Glenwood Springs and Woody Creek. A company called A&K Railroad Materials from Salt Lake City told RFTA July 1 that it would pay an estimated $900,000 for the old track. The firm promised to yank the track and ties out, grade the rail bed and leave the right of way in condition for addition of a trail.The RFTA board declined to accept the offer in a brief discussion at its July monthly meeting. Public pressure forced the agency to reconsider Thursday.RFTA Chief Executive Officer Dan Blankenship said the organization’s internal investigation of the value of the track one year ago produced a much lower price. But since then, he noted, steel prices have skyrocketed.”The price of steel is at an all-time high because the Chinese are buying massive amounts,” Blankenship wrote in a memo to his board. “As someone related, if A&K offered you $900,000, you could probably bet that it is worth three times that amount.”Blankenship recommended that the board direct him to study the potential “net liquidation value” of the track and ties; the potential impact of salvaging the track on future efforts to restore passenger train service; and whether there is the potential to make money from using the existing track for dinner trains and freight service.Blankenship said that study would take “several months.” That would mean the information would be out after a November election when RFTA will seek a sales tax increase from voters. Some critics have said RFTA shouldn’t be turning down offers for its track when it is in such poor financial condition that it needs a tax infusion.Roughly 20 people in the audience were eager to argue one side or the other, but RFTA board chairwoman Dorothea Farris kept speakers on a short rope.Dale Will, executive director of the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails program, said he couldn’t understand why rail backers viewed a trail such a threat to their goal of starting passenger train service. Will said a train is at least 10 to 15 years away. A trail on the rail bed seems a worthwhile amenity in the meantime, he said.Will claimed the trail could be moved off the rail bed at the appropriate time. Therefore, he said, a trail would be nothing more than a “slight irritant” to a train.Jim Markalunas and other train supporters were adamant that the presence of a trail would undermine efforts to restore a train. If a trail is built on the rail bed and used for a number of years, users won’t want to give it up for a train when the time comes, the train contingent claimed.The RFTA board wouldn’t take the bait and join the debate. Instead it directed Blankenship to study how much it would cost to conduct the broader study on the salvage issue. Blankenship said he would have the information prepared for the board’s September meeting.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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