Amtrak ConnectUS Announcement and Detailed Document

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jpakala

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Having read the Pueblo Station Area Plan (Aug 2020), I think it's excellent but wish the Union Avenue advantage of covered parking were added as a "Pro" factor and the lack of it at the Civic Center as a negative. Concluding a trip (bags in hand and so on) by finding one's car covered with snow & ice (or even blazing hot in summer) is not pleasant.
 

jis

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I've strung schedules for the alternatives and rerouting the SWC via Pueblo comes out better than depending on a corridor train extension. Even with good intentions a transcon will be wildly late a few times a year and thereby miss the corridor train. Going through Pueblo the connection may drop back to the next corridor train. If a wait for the next corridor connection is too long, it's easier to get a chartered bus at Pueblo than at La Junta.

The best combination is:
  • Trains 3 and 4 via Pueblo and Walsenburg.
  • Corridor connection at Pueblo to Train 4 and from Train 3.
  • Bus connection via corridor rail stations to Train 3 and from Train 4.
  • Abandon Santa Fe line between La Junta and Trinidad except for the access to the Army armor training facility.
The big question, aside from the usual freight capacity issues colored by the decline in coal, is whether the extra time in each direction results in problems with the turn of equipment in Los Angeles.

DEN<>KCY was a strong enough route to have twice daily service on the KP line till May 1971. However, like DEN<>OMA the most popular schedule was overnight. The DEN<>KCY trip via the Santa Fe line would satisfy some overnight travelers and adds connections onward at KCY. There's an existing schedule pattern now from LAJ to NOL for the hardy. The growth of Colorado Springs and its military dependent traffic is a factor as well.
As far as freight congestion issue goes apparently it could be just a short/medium term thing. Apparently the State of Colorado, BNSF and UP have been considering a long term plan to move all heavy freight traffic onto a new line to be constructed further east, away from the Front Range. There are apparently rather large operational advantages and cost savings to be had by such a move. The proposal, including maps and initial costing, is detailed in this document:


I have no idea what the current state of this proposal is.

If that happens, the Front Range Line will become mostly a passenger line. If in conjunction Amtrak diverts the SWC via Pueblo then it is only Amtrak that will abandon La Junta - Trinidad. A lot of the heavy freight that now travels via Walsenberg to Trinidad will travel the route Las Animas Jct. La Junta - Trinidad instead. The upside or downside (depending on how one looks at it) of this could be that Pueblo - Walsenberg - Trinidad becomes the responsibility of Amtrak/State of Colorado, as freight mostly abandons it.

I just chanced upon this document while poking around the ColoDOT site.
 
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Palmetto

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Thanks for digging that up. It has been below everyone's radar on rail discussion groups, it seems. For certain, this is news to me. The re-route would be pure BNSF traffic. Brush is too far east of Denver to benefit the Union Pacific RR, though, even with trackage rights on the BNSF. The new route would not be too hard to build: the topography is basically as flat as a pancake. Avoiding Denver and running higher speed trains would benefit BNSF customers. However, the Union Pacific RR also runs trains between Denver and Pueblo.
 

jis

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Thanks for digging that up. It has been below everyone's radar on rail discussion groups, it seems. For certain, this is news to me. The re-route would be pure BNSF traffic. Brush is too far east of Denver to benefit the Union Pacific RR, though, even with trackage rights on the BNSF. The new route would not be too hard to build: the topography is basically as flat as a pancake. Avoiding Denver and running higher speed trains would benefit BNSF customers. However, the Union Pacific RR also runs trains between Denver and Pueblo.
Actually Jim Souby who chairs the Front Range Passenger Rail Commission had mentioned it to me in the passing. That is where I first heard of it. Yhrn ehrn I ran into it I immediately recognized it for what it is since it was not entirely new to me, at least conceptually.
 

Willbridge

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The high plains bypass was proposed in the 1970's by an R. L. Banks study. It was done at the dawn of the coal traffic boom and when the Joint Line owners Rio Grande and Santa Fe and tenant Burlington Northern were still using helpers instead of distributed power. The very professional study showed that the new railway would pay for itself.

The problem was that most of the coal was on BN and so it would have been the main beneficiary. The owners of the Joint Line would have lost revenue. In the bigger picture they might have benefited by moving intermodal traffic better, but that was hypothetical. (Santa Fe took trailers off at La Junta for Denver at one point in the coal era.)

So nothing happened on the high plains. It was too bad for Limon, which would have been the logical place for a warehousing distribution center.

By the time the more recent study was done a lot of things had changed. RTD (my then employer) and CDOT had helped finance numerous grade separations and realignments on the Joint Line (shared now by LRT lines) which reduced the political concern about blocked crossings. BNSF was now an owner but the end of the coal boom was in sight. Helpers had joined the cabooses in the great rip track in the sky. Throughout most of the time between the two studies the highway lobby had controlled the legislature.

There was intermittent interest in the idea. In 2001 a colleague and I were asked by our general manager to determine whether the existing Front Range alignment (not infrastructure) could be used by a successful corridor service, given relocation of the coal traffic. He had heard this discussed somewhere. We concluded that it could be given continual increases in I-25 congestion resulting in a Surfliner scenario where 1950's rail speeds gradually become competitive. [Railfan note: BNSF agreed that it looked realistic with infrastructure improvements. It should have because we used their old employee timetables from Diesel streamliner days, courtesy of the hobby book shop located in Denver Union Station.]

So now the question is whether it is more cost effective in developing a Front Range corridor service to add track where necessary on the Front Range or to divert through freight to the high plains. I think the decline of coal has settled this question.
 

Palmetto

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Thanks, Willbridge, for that piece of history!

As you probably know, the new line would not divert all freight traffic because both the UP and BNSF use what's called the Joint Line between Denver and Pueblo, where they go their separate ways. IINM, it would have been used mainly by BNSF coal trains, but the number of those is diminishing. I don't see this ever happening, as a result. We agree there.
 

neroden

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As far as freight congestion issue goes apparently it could be just a short/medium term thing. Apparently the State of Colorado, BNSF and UP have been considering a long term plan to move all heavy freight traffic onto a new line to be constructed further east, away from the Front Range. There are apparently rather large operational advantages and cost savings to be had by such a move. The proposal, including maps and initial costing, is detailed in this document:


I have no idea what the current state of this proposal is.
Indefinitely suspended for an interesting reason. Most of the north-south traffic they were planning to relocate was coal traffic, and the eastern bypass line was designed to service coal mines. The coal traffic is disappearing *entirely* as the entire coal-burning business disappears, very quickly. There isn't much else in the way of north-south traffic, so it doesn't seem worth building new lines for coal mines which are going to close soon. So the design has to be redesigned. In fact, with the coal traffic disappearing, the freight congestion is going to go away anyway...

If that happens, the Front Range Line will become mostly a passenger line. If in conjunction Amtrak diverts the SWC via Pueblo then it is only Amtrak that will abandon La Junta - Trinidad. A lot of the heavy freight that now travels via Walsenberg to Trinidad will travel the route Las Animas Jct. La Junta - Trinidad instead. The upside or downside (depending on how one looks at it) of this could be that Pueblo - Walsenberg - Trinidad becomes the responsibility of Amtrak/State of Colorado, as freight mostly abandons it.

I just chanced upon this document while poking around the ColoDOT site.
I would love to know what non-coal freight traffic, if any, currently operates on either the Joint Line or on the BNSF line north of Denver. I haven't seen a good description of the non-coal traffic, since coal traffic was so dominant for so long.
 
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