RFTA votes to tear up, sell rail | AspenTimes.com

RFTA votes to tear up, sell rail

Train supporters lost a doubleheader in the Roaring Fork Valley yesterday.The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority board of directors voted 6-2 to salvage all the exposed steel rail between Glenwood Springs and Woody Creek. RFTA estimates the salvage tracks and ties could raise $1.2 million.The board also voted 8-0 after a lengthy debate to discontinue negotiations with an Iowa company that proposed running a dinner and tourist train between Glenwood Springs and Carbondale.The controversial decision to tear up and salvage the rail follows months of debate by the RFTA board and the elected officials of governments throughout the valley.The Aspen City Council vehemently opposed the salvage plan but ultimately found itself on the wrong side of the tracks. Its members reasoned that preserving the rail symbolically and practically preserved the corridor for a future passenger train service.Pitkin County, Basalt and Glenwood Springs wanted the rail salvaged and a trail built on the old rail bed when necessary to reduce the cost and time needed to complete a pedestrian route.The RFTA board, made up of elected officials from governments in the valley, heard testimony from residents on both sides of the issue yesterday.Rail supporter Jon Busch of Aspen said that tearing up the tracks would preclude use of the corridor for a train. That’s been proven over and over again in places like Aspen and Denver, he said. If the corridor is used exclusively as a trail for years, homeowners and trail users will never want to share it with a train, he said.”People have short memories,” Busch said.Dale Will, director of the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails program, said if a public entity owns a right of way, it can always use it. He noted that some homeowners in the Wingo Junction area threatened to sue Pitkin County to prevent the construction of a trail in the rail corridor in that area a few years ago. They learned they didn’t have any legal standing, Will said.While those same arguments have been debated for years, new material from Charles Montange, a Seattle attorney who is advising RFTA on rail issues, may have swayed the outcome.Montange told the RFTA board that paving over the steel rail would diminish its value. If it was buried for years, it couldn’t be used again for rail, he claimed. It would only be scrap.”If you bury the stuff, that becomes a problem,” Montange said. He likened RFTA’s action to a farmer burying excess corn under dirt and ruining it.From a legal standpoint, getting rid of the tracks doesn’t harm the chances of using the corridor for a passenger train in the future, Montange said. The Surface Transportation Board, the federal agency that supervises rail issues, “couldn’t care less” if tracks are on the rail bed or not, he said. RFTA has fulfilled its step of “rail banking” or preserving the use of the corridor for a train at a later date.Aspen Mayor Helen Klanderud, who sits on the RFTA board, stuck with her council’s opposition to salvaging the rail. The New Castle representative also opposed the salvage operation.Supporting it were the representatives of Pitkin County, Snowmass Village, Basalt, Carbondale, Glenwood Springs and Eagle County.Although the rail will be removed, the board stuck with its policy of only building the trail on the rail bed when geographical constraints like pinch points and wetlands make it necessary.After the direction became clear on salvage but before the official vote, the board was blasted by Terry Paulson, an Aspen city councilman and mayoral candidate who is an alternative member of the RFTA board.In an emotional threat, Paulson said the names of all board members who supported the rail salvage should be memorialized on a plaque in a highly visible place. Paulson claimed the decision was shortsighted and would hurt chances to ever restore passenger train service in the valley.”This day goes down as a day of infamy,” Paulson charged. “I think it’s absolutely outrageous that you’re making this decision.”Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com

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