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Passenger rail study for I-70 and I-25 corridors kicks off

Rocky Mountain Rail Authority chairman Harry Dale.
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On August 12, the Rocky Mountain Rail Authority announced the start of a feasibility study that could bring the state one step closer to a passenger rail system that goes from Wyoming to New Mexico along the I-25 corridor, and from Denver International Airport to Grand Junction along the I-70 corridor. Granted, there have already been lots of studies over the years that have gotten Coloradans excited about the possibility of a train to the mountains, none of which have resulted in any action. But the RMRA’s chair Harry Dale promises this one is different.

I got to know Dale when writing "Rail Roaded," a March 2007 feature about the last thirty years of failed attempts to address congestion along the I-70 corridor. Dale, a Clear Creek County Commissioner, was a transit advocate disgruntled over years of highway-focused transportation planning under the previous administration. He even kept a web page devoted to criticizing the Colorado Department of Transportation.

The RMRA was just getting off the ground then, with a handful of members who had come together seeking the eleventh and final Federal Rail Authority high speed rail corridor designation, which would give Colorado access to federal rail funds. "We realized quickly that the FRA doesn’t take that designation lightly and requires a feasibility study that looks at the technical, financial and economic aspects of feasibility for the corridor being studied, so we quickly changed our focus to the completion of a feasibility study," Dale says.

Since then, the RMRA’s membership has grown to 45 cities, counties, transportation authorities and districts. CDOT is funding the $1.5 million study with Senate Bill 1 transit funds, as well as a $300,000 match from the RMRA member jurisdictions. Transportation Economic and Management Systems Inc is the firm conducting the study, which is expected to be complete in August 2009.

The study will look at a range of technologies, including steel-wheel-on-steel-rail vehicles, linear induction, and maglev that can support speeds between 90 and 250 miles per hour and be implemented within the next five to 10 years. (Learn more about maglev here.) It will look at corridor and station locations, including secondary corridors along the I-70 segment that connect to major recreational areas like Steamboat, Craig, Aspen, Breckenridge, Winter Park and Central City. The study will also examine potential ridership and revenue levels, the amount of federal, state and local financial support that can be expected, and opportunities for private financing. "It is my goal as chair that we provide a very credible and useful study that takes a holistic look that future decision makers can use to determine where high speed rail is and is not feasible and what the next steps should be," he notes.

Dale said the RMRA would closely collaborate with other organizations, including its primary partner CDOT, as well as the Regional Transportation District, the Denver Regional Council of Governments, the I-70 Coalition, freight rail companies, and the state of Wyoming, which is now conducting a similar rail study.

There will be public meetings throughout the process. Learn more at RockyMountainRail.org. -- Jessica Centers

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