Bob Briggs Is Off the Train

Bob Briggs wants rail through the mountains.

Bob Briggs (above), the man whose spent the past few years raising support and money for a statewide, high-speed, passenger rail system along the I-25 and I-70 corridors, was fired earlier this month from the group he started.

In 2005, the nonprofit Briggs created to promote rail, now called the Colorado Rail Association, secured $1.25 million from Referendum C funds to conduct a feasibility study for rail in the mountain corridors. In order to receive the money, CDOT required that an intergovernmental agreement be created, and so the Rocky Mountain Rail Authority – a government entity with a membership of about twenty counties and municipalities – was founded to receive the funds and lead the study. Briggs acted as the group’s director from its inception, and in June was formally made executive director by the board. But then on July 6, the board voted to terminate his contract.

“Bob really isn’t used to working for a board,” says Harry Dale, the Clear Creek County Commissioner who is the board’s chairman. “He’s done an incredibly good job of selling and getting political support for this project, but it’s been his project, and the Colorado Rail Association was his to direct. The problem is now you create a government entity, with a board of elected officials responsible for tax dollars, and you need to have board approval on virtually everything you do. I don’t think Bob ever truly understood that, nor did he separate the functions of CRA from RMRA.”

Dale says the RMRA has the primary mission of creating a credible feasibility study, so it can’t campaign or lobby, which is what Briggs was doing. “He was strongly campaigning for a 2008 ballot initiative [to fund passenger rail], and we don’t anticipate our study is even going to be complete until early 2009. He was just getting ahead of himself.”

Dale says Briggs was also pushing for a particular technology – heavy rail – for both corridors.

Briggs, however, suggests he was fired because the board is now controlled by people from I-70 corridor jurisdictions who want to “make sure the study will recommend electric” technology.

Both claim they want the study to determine the best technology.

In his current position as president of the Colorado Rail Association, Briggs is continuing to promote statewide passenger rail and push for a 2008 ballot initiative that would fund the system. He expects Governor Bill Ritter’s transportation panel to recommend a ballot proposal related to transportation funding in its entirety, and he wants to ensure that the rail project is included in that.

“We’ll still work together,” he says of RMRA and CRA. “We still have to get to the same spot. We want passenger rail for the state of Colorado.” – Jessica Centers

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Amy Haimerl