RFTA to get on board beer train? | AspenTimes.com

RFTA to get on board beer train?

The return of rail to the Roaring Fork Valley may be just a few short months away. But instead of hauling people, this train would haul beer.

Aspen resident Jon Busch and Jan Girardot of Glenwood Springs raised the possibility yesterday of opening up the tracks in the lower valley to allow freight trains to access warehouses and other customers located as far up as Carbondale.

Girardot, president of the Western Colorado chapter of the National Historical Railway Society, told the Roaring Fork Transit Agency’s directors that the society’s nonprofit status would make it both economical and easy to acquire the engines needed to haul freight up the valley. RFTA owns and manages the railroad right of way between Glenwood Springs and Woody Creek.

“The club is a nonprofit,” he said. “We don’t have to make a profit, we simply have to cover costs.”

Girardot said at least one other chapter of the railway society is operating a revenue-generating train along the Gulf of Mexico coast. If service was to resume here, he reckons there would be two or three runs a week between the Union Pacific tracks in Glenwood and drop-off points up the Roaring Fork.

Asked how hard it would be to acquire working locomotives that can haul freight, Girardot said, “I don’t think it would be a big problem, given we’re not the first chapter to think of it.”

He added that Orrison Distribution, one of the primary liquor suppliers in the region, has expressed interest in receiving beer at its Garfield County warehouse by rail.

Contacted by phone after Girardot’s presentation, company owner Rick Orrison said that while he would prefer to receive his beer by train, the decision is not actually his. Girardot would have to convince Anheuser-Busch and Miller Brewing Co., Orrison’s main suppliers, to deliver beer by train instead of truck.

Beer was in fact delivered by train for most of the 38 years that the Orrison family has been supplying liquor to central and northwestern Colorado. But in recent years, both Miller and Anheuser-Busch have relocated production facilities and switched delivery from trains to trucks. Anheuser-Busch now trucks its beer up from a brewery in Fort Collins, and Miller does the same from a plant in Fort Worth, Texas. Back in the days of rail delivery, the beer was brewed in St. Louis and Milwaukee, Wisc.

“It’s definitely more economical by rail,” Orrison said. But all of his beer is now delivered on semis. “If the train were available, it would be their decision about how to get it to me.”

Girardot said if RFTA supports his proposal and a customer or two can be lined up, the train tap could be open within a year.

[Allyn Harvey’s e-mail address is aharvey@aspentimes.com]

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