Transit expert: Build trail now, but reserve bed for future train
A public official who spent seven years helping plan for rail service in the Roaring Fork Valley says the corridor should be used for a trail now and reserved for a possible commuter train.Alice Laird, a former staffer for public agencies that conducted studies on train feasibility, said trail construction shouldn’t be delayed any longer to explore if a short-term operator of a dinner car, trash train or short-line freight service can be found.”There’s been enough deliberation,” said Laird. “There was careful deliberation for seven years.”And she was in the thick of it. Laird was a key staff member of the Roaring Fork Railroad Holding Authority, a consortium of local governments that was created to purchase the old rail corridor from Glenwood Springs to Aspen. She worked with the agency while it completed the Corridor Investment Study, which determined the alignment of commuter rail, if it is ever established.
Laird remained at the center of rail and mass-transit studies as RFRHA evolved into the Rural Transportation Authority and ultimately the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority. She left RFTA in September 2003. Her work, she said, included “sitting through hundreds of hours of debate about a train.”Laird, who was elected to the Carbondale Town Council last year, remains supportive of maintaining the corridor for potential commuter rail service. But she said the studies established that specialty trains – whether they are for diners or trash – aren’t financially feasible.”Those are completely different animals from commuter rail,” Laird said.She was among the people lobbying the RFTA board of directors last week to tear up the existing rails and sell them to raise funds for trail construction. A consultant estimated RFTA could get between $1 million and $1.25 million to salvage the rails.RFTA’s goal is to complete a Roaring Fork Valley trail from the Emma area to Glenwood Springs by 2010. Pitkin County has already completed the stretch from Emma to Aspen.
RFTA staff recommended last week that the rails be salvaged and the trail be built on the rail bed to reduce construction costs from $8.55 million to $5.98 million. RFTA Chief Executive Officer Dan Blankenship also advised that the agency stop exploring if a dinner train operator could be found.The RFTA board overruled Blankenship and directed him to issue a “request for proposals” for a dinner car. If proposals are submitted they will be reviewed for feasibility – a process that Blankenship estimated could cost up to $25,000.Laird claimed the step is unnecessary. “It’s just a really expensive restaurant. It’s not going to happen,” she said of a dinner train. “Seven years of debate should have resolved that.”She said it is unfortunate that trail is being pitted against rail. It was also contemplated during the purchase of the corridor and during the study of its development that a trail would be part of the plan.
Laird said she doesn’t “buy” the argument of some rail advocates that building the trail will make it politically impossible to develop rail. The opposition, she said, will come from homeowners adjacent to the corridor, not trail users. The corridor plan has always contemplated building a trail alongside the rail bed if a commuter train is ever established.RFTA’s current policy is to build a trail on the rail bed only when the corridor is pinched by geography and goes through wetlands. The trail would be relocated in the corridor for a commuter train.Laird said she supports staying off the rail bed whenever possible.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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After nine months of being shuttered due to the COVID-19 crisis, the Wheeler Opera House will reopen for local acts. A touchless reservation system will be open to 53 people for in-person at the venue. Online live streaming also will be available.