After Study of High-Speed Rail Along Front Range, Slower, Cheaper Trains More Likely

The Regional Transportation District's A-Line uses commuter rail trains. Similar technology is likely to be recommended in a forthcoming study from CDOT and the Southwest Chief & Front Range Passenger Rail Commission. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
The Regional Transportation District's A-Line uses commuter rail trains. Similar technology is likely to be recommended in a forthcoming study from CDOT and the Southwest Chief & Front Range Passenger Rail Commission. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

As soon as next year, voters could approve a passenger rail line that would extend along the Front Range from Pueblo and Colorado Springs to Boulder and Fort Collins, with other stops along the way.

  • In 2010, a study determined that high-speed rail is feasible along both the I-70 and I-25 corridors
  • Speeds would need to reach 90 mph or more to attract riders, according to the Rocky Mountain Rail Authority’s report
  • A new study, announced Tuesday, will build on earlier reports, including the high-speed rail study
  • The Obama administration had earmarked billions in funding for a potential high-speed rail network in the region
  • That funding is no longer available under the current administration in Washington
  • The new study will consider high-speed rail, but given voters’ recent rejection of funding for other transportation projects, slower, lower-cost technologies that do not reach 90 mph are likely to be recommended
  • The state legislature could consider the new study’s recommendations as soon as this winter and put the new rail line on the 2020 ballot 
  • Only voters along the Front Range would be asked to consider the proposition

Sources: Harry Dale, former head of the Rocky Mountain Rail Authority; Randy Grauberger, project director Southwest Chief & Front Range Passenger Rail Commission; David Krutsinger, transit and rail director, Colorado Department of Transportation.

 

  • mckillio

    If the train doesn’t go at least 110 mph I don’t see much point in doing it. The route should at least be able to accommodate double decker cars as well.

    What is the state law that requires these cities? Having Boulder on there seems a little silly given path that needs to be taken. It should go to Longmont and then people can connect from there for a bus or another train. But then it would be a little duplicative of the N line.

    Where/how would the track get to DUS?

    A bit off topic, does the BNSF track go between Boulder and Longmont? And does the proposed B line have to share tracks between the Westminster and Church Ranch stations?

    • iBikeCommute

      The train should go where people live but my guess is that it will go through DIA and not Union Station since that is cheaper and development has already closed off US without an expensive tunnel.

      • TakeFive

        Yes, stopping at the Aerotropolis make the most sense.

  • iBikeCommute

    This is shortsighted. The transportation ballots failed but did better in the urban areas. Front range voters would most likely approve funding for true high speed rail. Heck, we are already spending 2 billion in 10 miles of I70 through north Denver.

    • mckillio

      And those ballot measures were stupid. We need to raise the gas tax not the sales tax.

      • TakeFive

        While I agree with you, polls have consistently shown that increasing the gas tax is unpopular. The other problem is that wouldn’t raise enough money to do anything beyond maintenance.

        • mckillio

          Which polls? That doesn’t mean people wouldn’t vote for it. Being able to pay for the maintenance of our roads should be the minimum but it just depends on how much it’s raised.

          • TakeFive

            I’ve always wanted an increase in fuel taxes to be part of any voter package but so far you and I are on the outside.

    • TakeFive

      Actually the Central 70 project is $1.2 billion.

      • iBikeCommute

        Plus interest on the bonds.

        • TakeFive

          Nobody from coast to coast looks at construction project costs as including 30 years of interest. When you speak of what you paid for your home (assuming), do you give the 30-year cost as opposed to what the county assessor registers as the sale cost?

          • iBikeCommute

            No but when speaking of the price of a public works project shouldn’t it include the total cost that taxpayers will be on the hook for? When I make a mortgage payment I still have to include the interest payments in my budget.

          • TakeFive

            As long as we treat transit, bike lanes, etc the same I guess we could start a new standard for quoting costs.

          • iBikeCommute

            We should certainly acknowledge that the use of bonds increases costs. Then we might be discouraged from using bonds to pay for things like routine street maintenance.

          • TakeFive

            I wholeheartedly agree. Cities are notorious for deferring needed maintenance in favor of other new toys that people want.

          • Steve Taylor

            Not true. When Seattle voted on Sound Transit 3 in 2016 the total cost of the listed on the ballot measure was $53.8 billion because they included the interest costs.

          • TakeFive

            That’s a fair and interesting point. That was uniquely different in that it reflects the costs of a whole menu of projects based on YOE estimates. The proposal also authorized bonding. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sound_Transit_3

            A portion of the plan would be funded through $11 billion in bonds, which would need repayment before taxes could be repealed. Estimates for full repayment and repeal range from 2048 to 2068, based on financial models from Sound Transit.[60]

            If, however, you follow the coverage of individual (light rail) projects they are quoting project costs (and not including financing costs).

          • James White

            I agree, total projected cost should be what we should speak to. Nevertheless, that doesn’t excuse getting silly. $1.2B ends up @$1.7B with interest. It’s an important difference but it doesn’t double in cost.

          • TakeFive

            I’d disagree. If you buy a new house costing $500,000 for example that’s the project cost. How people choose to pay for is a different topic. One couple might pay cash while another finances 90% but that doesn’t change the cost of building a new home.

            In the case of Central 70, CDOT would love to be able to pay as you go (like Tennessee typically does). But it took creativity to put this project together given CDOT’s limited funding. They were however able to get ~$410 million in TIFIA funding @ 2.5%. The annual increases in construction costs have been ~4% so it would cost more to not finance the project. Adding in the finance costs doesn’t consider the present value of money or inflation costs of not proceeding.

        • TM

          Plus overruns that will definitely happen.

          • TakeFive

            No question that construction costs have gone up and will continue to do so. That will affect the $933 million in Elevate Denver Bond projects as well so hold onto your hat. I probably have more confidence in the Central 70 project than other upcoming projects.

          • TM

            Wait and see what happens to the cost when they start digging the ditch through the superfund site.

        • James White

          Government bonds do not pay $8 of interest on every $12 they borrow.

  • TakeFive

    The timelines don’t match up. https://www.cpr.org/news/story/cdot-is-eying-front-range-passenger-rail-here-s-what-they-say-needs-to-happen

    The Colorado Department of Transportation announced Tuesday that it’s soliciting bids to study passenger rail service from Fort Collins to Trinidad. … Any new system would be a massive undertaking, with coordination needed from local municipalities, freight railroads, existing transit services like Amtrak and RTD — and, of course, a lot of money. The study will explore possible routes, capital and operating costs, and other factors.

    The agency expects to award the contract this summer and for the entire study to take more than two years to complete.

    I’m going to guess they won’t ask voters for any money until this study is completed and they’ve decided what they should propose. 2022 looks more likely to me.

  • TM

    It would be nice to get high speed, but really these places are not that far apart, any train service is still faster and more comfortable than driving. Any train is better than ridiculous highway widening.

    • TakeFive

      Except for the costs and likely ridership projects, I’d agree that a train would be nice.

    • mckillio

      But we need more than that for it to be successful and really change people’s habits. I would find it inexcusable and embarrassing for a brand new line covering these distances to only go 10-20 mph faster than cars.

      • TM

        It will go 60 mph faster than the cars that are sitting in traffic, plus be available to those who can’t or don’t want to drive.

        It depends how much of it is really brand new. I would guess that if it’s not going to be high speed, it will mostly use existing track. Which would get it up and running sooner, not a bad trade off to me. I’d much rather have a train that goes 60-70 mph to Ft. Collins in the next five years than one that goes 100 mph 25 years from now.

        • James White

          oh good because with all the problems we have – fetynal, homelessness, mental health, caring for the elderly, etc – we should be spending billions of dollars for people who won’t drive. #facepalm

          • TM

            Not all people CAN drive Mr. Facepalm asshole.
            It makes a hell of a lot more sense to spend public money on something that is actually available to everyone than to spend it on roads which are only available to people old/young enough, physically, and financially able to drive.

          • James White

            Someone’s got a case of the mondays.

            You clearly stated not just can’t but won’t. We already have the can’t covered. And for those who won’t, well, that’s their choice. We as a society to first help those most in need. It’s immoral not to.

          • TM

            Nothing you’re saying has anything to do with the topic.

          • James White

            Get your undies out of your crack. You endorsed spending hundreds of billions for people who refuse to drive.

          • TM

            Which would do more good than the hundreds of billion we already spend on only people that can drive.

          • TM

            “refuse to drive”
            As if wanting to travel by other means is somehow a bad thing. Get your head out of your ass.

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