Valley railway will remain in local ownership
The federal board that oversees management of the nation’s railways decided Friday that the right of way between Glenwood Springs and Woody Creek should remain in public ownership.The Surface Transportation Board’s ruling ends an effort by two Salt Lake City-based salvage operators to take control of the tracks and corridor that once belonged to the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad.”The STB sided with us on every issue,” said Roaring Fork Railroad Holding Authority attorney Bob Noone. “It even went so far as to say that if they had understood in October how the tracks were going to be used, they never would have allowed a challenge to our ownership.”The challenge came late last October in the form of an “offer of financial assistance” from Morris Kulmer and Kern Schumacher, owners of A&K Salvage.The holding authority, a local public agency that owns the tracks, had asked for an exemption from the federal law that requires even the most seldom-used railroad lines remain open to freight traffic. The holding authority wanted to take the line out of service until local residents decided how to use it.Known as “rail banking,” the exemption allows the right of way to be closed while it is rehabilitated or converted to other uses. Local residents will soon be asked whether a commuter train should be constructed between Glenwood and the entrance to Snowmass Village. Without the exemption, the holding authority would be required to maintain trains and, if asked, haul freight up and down the lower valley. Kulmer and Schumacher’s offer of financial assistance was a direct challenge to the holding authority’s request for an exemption. They contended that they could keep the right of way functioning as a freight corridor and cited several potential customers, including the W/J Ranch and a Utah garbage hauler, as cause to allow them to buy the right of way from the public.”Where, as here, the line is not currently active,” reads the transportation board decision, “there must be some assurances that shippers are likely to make use of the line if continued service is made available … The record in this case does not provide such assurances.”In fact, according to the decision, Kulmer and Schumacher admitted that demand for freight traffic was insufficient to cover the costs of operating the line. They stated that they would use the right of way for a commuter rail and multiuse trail – the exact same uses as the holding authority.”It would be inappropriate and unfair to permit that offer of financial assistance process to wrest the right of way away from one person (or organization) desiring to use it for valid public purpose and give it to another person to use for the identical purpose,” says the decision.Officials at the holding authority said history indicates that Kulmer and Schumacher would have eventually declared the line unprofitable and sold off the tracks for salvage. “They’re a pretty well-known salvage operation,” said rail consultant Roger Millar.Once the tracks are sold off, said holding authority attorney Noone, Kulmer and Schumacher could require local governments to lease the land to build a trail and charge property owners fees to build roads and driveways across the right of way.In its decision, the transportation board also cited the fact that Congress has committed $40 million to building a commuter rail in the Roaring Fork Valley, and that use of the money required public ownership of the right of way. The ruling also bans further challenges to the holding authority’s ownership.”The decision confirms public ownership,” said Noone. “It confirms that decisions about the corridor will be made by the people who live here instead of an out-of-state corporation that we have little or no influence over.”
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