Colorado needs transportation, not monuments

Letter by Donald Leach

Transportation – December 1997 – Colorado Central Magazine

Colorado needs decent transportation, not monuments to egos


Recent articles in The Denver Post concerning rail transportation in Summit County and neighboring counties make it evident that a campaign for the public’s mind is in progress. The emphasis on megabuck, megaprojects of the multi-billion dollar variety is conspicuous, as the supposed salvation for traffic and pollution problems. This is understandable, since the promotion, construction, and property interests can only make multi-millions from projects that are multi-billion. A thoughtful and insightful response to these drumbeats is essential and mandatory.

Likely the greatest sham is the repeated, off-hand reference to “the I-70 corridor” as a potential rail route. As is evident from the surviving viable rail routes across the continental divide, one could hardly make a poorer choice. There are many reasons that the narrow gauge got no farther west than Silver Plume on this route, while the Moffat Tunnel route is approaching 70 years of continuous, successful operation. Three obvious reasons are avoiding 7% grades, construction of Georgetown Loops, and a 1500-foot lower crossing of the Continental Divide. Furthermore, Kremmling is merely 38 miles from Silverthorne, on a moderately-graded Blue River level route, facilitating a low-cost and very effective connection to the Moffat Line. Is anybody listening?

Because of its pioneer mineral history, the high country is blessed with many rail routes, both surviving and dismantled but retrievable. We have the heavily rebuilt Tennessee Pass line, from Minturn (a few miles from Vail), up the Eagle River Gorge, through the summit tunnel at 10,200 feet, then to Malta, connecting with the Climax line through Leadville to the top of Frémont Pass. Abandoned, but accessible for restoration, are the remains of two routes from Frémont Pass to Frisco, which could readily be extended to Breckenridge, and eventually Silverthorne.

Isn’t this fortuitous, though? Public meetings and barroom discussions are held addressing transportation of Lake County residents to work in Summit County resort communities, and transportation of skiers between various resorts and lifts. We have just described a rail route connecting Eagle, Avon, Minturn (Vail), Leadville, Copper Mountain, Frisco, Breckenridge, Silverthorne, Kremmling, and thence to Denver. Much of this infrastructure exists, and the rest could be restored at a fraction of Mega-Project costs.

Critics will immediately respond that this is not “high speed rail,” this is not TGV, not Northeast Corridor, etc., etc. Tell me folks, is your vision of the high country one of noisy high-speed trains, sounding like jets at D.I.A., zipping tourists and residents alike at warp speed through this magnificent Heart of the Rocky Mountains? The rail travel I propose recognizes that the journey is nearly as important as the destination, in some cases more so. Successful rail/ski integration, such as the Winter Park train, and similar to the Rocky Mountaineer in western Canada, does not move at warp speed. Well-conceived rail travel becomes part of the high-country experience, to be savored. It is also affordable.

A further reply to critics:

Slow down.

This is not Newark, New Jersey.

This is not Norman, Oklahoma.

Look at the Mountains.

Smell the Flowers.

Get a Life.

Colorado needs no more monuments to politicians’ egos, built at public expense. It has Denver International Airport.

Donald Leach Englewood