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Why can’t Colorado be as smart as New Mexico?

Letter from Peter Bulkeley

Transportation – October 2008 – Colorado Central Magazine


Keith Baker’s letter in the September edition brought up a subject that has been sticking in my craw for a considerable time. What is the matter with the citizens of Colorado and their lack of support for rail transportation? New Mexico, a state with a substantially lower median annual income than Colorado and much smaller population, purchased the former Santa Fe Railroad right of way from Belen, south of Albuquerque, to Santa Fé and installed commuter rail (Rail Runner). The connection into Santa Fé, which required some track rerouting and bridges on a former spur, is scheduled to be put in service in mid-December. The rest is already in operation. There is also talk of purchasing the track the rest of the way to Raton Pass. Oh yes, this is the same state which kept up its financial support of the Cumbres & Toltec during hard times while Colorado didn’t.

Colorado successfully frittered away a tremendous rail resource throughout the state. With a small amount of vision, the important routes could have been mothballed and retained for use at a later time. Was there ever a time in Colorado history when growth of the state wasn’t an important consideration in the minds of the powers-that-be? Note that RTD light rail is redeveloping several abandoned rail corridors.

I seriously doubt Mr. Baker’s contention that Pitkin County will ever be rueful about its failure to utilize the route from Glenwood Springs to Aspen for commuter transportation. “After all, would we really want the kind of people who use public transportation in our town?” I’ve been following this since the D&RGW wanted to divest itself of the line and it seemed Pitkin County, if not actively trying to defeat this use of the line for public transportation, certainly dragged its feet until support dwindled and it was torn out. I thought this would be a perfect line to shuttle people to and from Aspen and get them off the highway. One flaw in this idea would be sufficient space along the route for parking lots. Additionally, the same technology might allow use of the tracks from Leadville to Minturn for Vail workers. The route could continue to Glenwood Springs.

If any use of the existing rail routes is practical, it probably wouldn’t be service that ran frequently all day, but more likely something similar to commuter trains in Chicago or New York City; inbound in the morning, outbound at night. Needless to say, the routes in the Arkansas Valley are long with few people between the towns, but several round trips during the day in addition to commute service might attract the number of riders required to make it work.

Peter Bulkeley