State wrestles with routes in study seeking Front Range high-speed rail

       You could route a passenger train through central Colorado Springs where most of the city's potential riders are, but using the older track could slow its speed enough to make it unpopular. Or you could run the train east of the city, where new and faster track could be built, but that might be too far from the main population, and that too could cost ridership.

Don Ulrich, chief consultant for the state's high-speed rail study, discusses two possible alignments through Colorado Springs (one on existing track near I-25, the other on new track out east) in a presentation during the open house at the PPACG building July 16.
Westside Pioneer photo

       Finding a balance in that dilemma is one of the major goals in a study of a proposed high-speed rail line along the Front Range between Fort Collins and Pueblo, according to a presentation at an open house July 16 at the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments (PPACG) building on Chestnut Street.
       Other tough questions for the Interregional Connectivity Study (ICS) emerged:
  • How many stops should be offered? A greater number might attract riders at those locations, but the resulting reduction in the train's point-to-point time could in turn lessen its attractiveness to riders overall.
  • Finding right of way. In places it's very tight and there are some areas that don't want a railroad in their midst at all (for example, a few Black Forest people said as much at the open house).
           “It's no small task to find the sweet spot,” commented David Krutsinger, the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) program manager for the ICS study.
           With the study just getting started, no development time frame or cost estimates for the service have been announced, although it is evident that money will be an issue. Krutsinger said he expects that the system would need 40 to 60 percent federal funding. Such a share would be about the same as the subsidies now provided for federal highways and air travel, he said. However, it's unknown whether that would mean additional funds would be needed for rail or that lower subsidies would go to other forms of travel.
           High-speed rail for the Front Range was defined at the open house as trains going at least 90 mph and perhaps as fast as 150. The idea is that it would attract riders because the travel time would be quicker than cars and buses; also, rail could and potentially be more convenient than airplanes, Krutsinger said.
           As expressed in one of the slides during the presentation, state officials believe high-speed rail will “address the mobility demands of future population growth, improve mobility through provision of a travel option, enhance economic development through improved connectivity, improve the state's environmental quality and energy efficiency and provide economic benefits sufficient to receive new funding sources.”
           Don Ulrich, lead consultant on the project with CH2M Hill, said he expects the study to take about a year. Other ICS public meetings were held this week in Fort Collins, Denver and Pueblo.
           The study is broken out into four “milestones.” The first of these, “Chartering & Vision,” came together in meetings this spring of the project team (CDOT and its consultants). The current stage is titled “Development of Alignments.” This fall/winter will mark the “Conceptual Evaluation” milestone, and winter/spring will be “Detailed Evaluation & Recommendations.” Both upcoming milestones will be accompanied by public meetings, the process schedule indicates.
           The ICS study follows others - most re-cently CDOT's Freight and Pas-senger Rail Plan finalized this spring - which identified a potential passenger market for high-speed Front Range rail.
           One goal of the current study is to specify how high-speed rail can tie in with Denver's existing light-rail/transit system. “In order for it to work statewide, we want to make sure it it is working in Denver,” Ulrich said.
           Another part of the study is looking at a type of rail line, called an advanced guideway system, that would follow the basic route of I-70 west of Denver.
           In conversations, consultants indicated what might be proposed for the Pikes Peak region. If the train comes through the central part of Colorado Springs - an idea which has garnered some local support - the old Denver & Rio Grande station off Sierra Madre Street could see new life. Other stops are being considered at Monument and Castle Rock, as well as Pueblo, Denver and Fort Collins.
           The speed limitation inside the Springs would result from using track that wasn't built for faster trains. In places where new track could be installed to suit modern technologies, speeds up to 150 mph could be attained, according to information at the open house.
           Right of way issues through populated areas pose concerns. Ulrich said the existing Colorado Springs rail lines will be at capacity by 2035, and a similar situation exists now in southern Denver.
           The CDOT Division of Transit & Rail was established by the State Legislature in 2009. In the same year, a “collaborative effort by the federal government, states, railroads and other key stakeholders,” initially using $8 billion in stimulus funds, began “to help transform America's transportation system through the creation of a national network of high-speed rail corridors,” according to the Federal Rail Administration's High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Program website.
           A website where people can learn more about the ICS study is at coloradodot.info/projects/ICS.

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