State speeding up Front Range Passenger Rail process

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COLORADO SPRINGS — Creating a passenger rail line spanning the 173 miles of the Front Range’s largest communities is well in its early phases. Still, the Governor’s office is giving it extra support, according to Jill Gaebler.

Gaebler, a Colorado Springs City Council member, is the chair for the Front Range Passenger Rail Commission and says Governor Jared Polis and the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) has dedicated extra staff to help with the review needed from the federal government as part of the National Environmental Policy Act.

First, though, they need input from the people who would be using it along an estimated 173-mile long corridor stretching from Pueblo to Fort Collins.

Courtesy of the Colorado Dept. of Transportation

“We are looking at different stations along that corridor and hearing from different communities who would, of course, love a station. But, when you are trying to build a rail system that is fast and efficient, you can’t stop everywhere,” Gaebler said.

You can give input on this website through the end of July. CDOT says southern Colorado has had high participation.

Growth is what’s driving the project and its expedited plans. The state estimates growing from its current 5.7 million people to 7.8 million by 2045. Eighty-five percent of that is to come on the front range, and El Paso County is expected to grow from an estimated 720,000 people to over 1.1 million in that time.

“Building bridges to make those connections is really costly, and we don’t have the room. We cannot continue to build I-25. That really is not an option,” Gaebler said.

Gaebler points to the I-25 South Gap. CDOT reports it will cost $350 million for the project. The rebuild of the highway will add a toll lane in each direction over an 18-mile stretch. Estimates for rail starts at $5 billion, but Gaebler says adding capacity after that is cheaper and easier.

“If you think about rail, it’s imminently scalable. As we grow, you could add more trains, more train cars, more lines. It’s so scalable compared to a road,” voiced Gaebler.

The cost of the rail depends on how fast it will go and how much the state can partner with rail companies. Freight and passenger rail companies are at the table in the commission, and Gaebler says, there is room within existing rail easements to build another rail line.

Gaebler says, “We know that Amtrak has kind of been shifting its model from long-range service to more shorter service lines, more urban lines and they are interested in this corridor.”

The timeline is still unclear, though the NEPA review is expected by the end of summer.

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