CDOT to study Front Range commuter train

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The 173-mile stretch from Pueblo to Fort Collins will have 1.7 million more people living in the region by 2045, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation. Now, the agency is trying to figure out the best way to move them.

CDOT announced Monday it’s accepting applications from firms to study a Front Range commuter train along the entirety of the region.

“What people along the Front Range want from passenger rail,” Jill Gaebler said. “The frequency, where they want it to be located, but really, how we would fund it too.”

Gaebler is a Colorado Springs City Councilwoman and is the chair of the Colorado Passenger Rail Commission, the group dedicated to studying what a 173-mile commuter rail would take. 

“Of course, it has to have the frequency so people feel like when they need to go to Denver, they can catch a train and not have to wait hours,” Gaebler said. “It has to be reliable and it has to have the frequency that people need, and it has to be fast enough to compete with roads.”

Not roads during rush hour or in the middle of a weekday, either, according to Gaebler. The train needs to be as fast as taking I-25 when the highway is free of congestion.

“It would have to be high speed,”she said.

The clock is ticking for a solution to Front Range transportation. Gaebler said the state is behind when it comes to solving the predicament of moving around the projected population increase. 

The I-25 Gap Project is one part, but is still years away from being completed. And it’s likely the final expansion the freeway can handle.

“This is probably our last shot of adding a lane between Denver and Colorado Springs,” Gaebler said. “Adding another lane just increases demand. It opens up the lanes and we call that induced demand. People who are trying not to drive on I-25 suddenly start driving it.”

The flexibility of adding capacity is one of the attractive qualities of rail to the Commission. When more room is needed, it can be as simple as just adding a rail car.

“You can’t do that on a road,” Gabeler said. “You have to continue to maintain the road and add new lanes as congestion grows, and it’s very cost-prohibitive.”

Roads take time to build, as recent delays in the Gap project have shown.

How to pay for the railway is one of the things the study will look at. Gaebler said the commission is looking at reducing costs as well. In addition to looking at existing railways, they are considering public-private partnerships.

“We have Amtrak at the table, we have freight railroads at the table [like] Union Pacific and BNSF and how they might partner with us to build this rail line,” Gabeler said.

CDOT said they want to expedite the process to get the commuter line going, though they will still have to create a rail passenger service development plan mandated by the Federal Railroad Administration, and environmental review required by the National Environmental Policy Act. 

A timeline at this point is unknown.

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