Tie off: RFTA soft trail taking shape | AspenTimes.com

Tie off: RFTA soft trail taking shape

Dennis Webb
Glenwood Springs correspondent

Removal of railroad tracks in the Roaring Fork Valley this summer will clear the way for a soft-surface trail to open between Glenwood Springs and Carbondale sometime this fall.

Officials with the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority said the salvage operation will leave a smooth railroad bed available for recreational use.

“It’s pretty much a road from Carbondale to Glenwood that (will be) open for people to walk and ride,” said Mike Hermes, director of properties and trails for RFTA.

No motorized vehicles will be allowed on the trail. Road crossings will be gated and signs will be placed to warn trail users and motorists of cross traffic. Handrails will be installed at bridges to protect trail users.

Hermes has seen some recreationists already getting out on the rail bed, but asks that people wait to use it until after salvaging is complete. He said it’s dangerous to use the corridor while steel and spikes remain in the area and heavy equipment is at work.

“It’s not a very good place to be,” he said.

Hermes expects the railbed could open to use by late September at the earliest.

Hermes said the trail will be suitable for pedestrians and mountain bikers, but not for people on road bikes or in-line skates. RFTA plans to begin building a paved trail from Glenwood Springs as far as the Colorado Mountain College turnoff along Highway 82 next year.

A contractor, Tie Yard of Omaha, has been working this summer on removing the rail, following debate last year about whether to keep it in place for possible future rail service. RFTA did agree to retain the railroad from about the Rosebud Cemetery in Glenwood to the wye at the junction with the Union Pacific railroad near the Colorado River because rail enthusiasts are looking into running a short excursion train on that stretch.

Leaving the tracks in place elsewhere would have caused problems for RFTA in completing a valleywide trail along the corridor because of geographical pinch points in certain areas.

Tie Yard of Omaha bid about $1.18 million for the right to salvage the tracks.

“We got the money up front, and now they’re coming back in and they’re removing their assets,” RFTA Executive Director Dan Blankenship said.

The company has been temporarily storing rails at the wye, and stacking ties on RFTA property by the CMC turnoff, prior to their shipment. Blankenship expects the last shipments will occur by the end of the year.

The tearing up of the tracks has been difficult for Jan Girardot of Glenwood Springs to watch. He’s president of the Western Colorado Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society, and was among those who had called for preserving the rails in case they could be used to run a passenger train that gives people an alternative to traveling on Highway 82.

“I still get nervous about the amount of traffic I see on that highway and the fact that I think not too far down the road they’re going to need a better way to travel than that highway,” he said.

Still, Girardot takes heart in the fact that RFTA decided to spare some track and let his group, in conjunction with Armitage Investments of Boulder, pursue the excursion train idea. He said the train’s backers already have had positive discussions with the Federal Railroad Administration and with Union Pacific. They will be meeting next with the state Public Utilities Commission, but a PUC staff member has recommended approval of the excursion train, he said.

Girardot hopes the train is up and running by next year.

“It will be low-speed but fun. I think it will be a nice little additional attraction for Glenwood,” he said.

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