Amtrak to Colorado Springs?

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Anthony V

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A few weeks ago, I came across an article (posted below) that talks about funding a study on adding a Colorado Springs branch to the Southwest Chief. (I would call this section the Denver Chief or the Rocky Mountain Chief). While this sounds like a good idea, running it a little further north Denver Union Station should be a no-brainer but wasn't mentioned in the article, implying that the proposal would terminate the new section at Colorado Springs. Is this the case? Running it to Denver would open up trips to Denver from Kansas City - as well as other stops along the SWC from La Junta eastward, and would open up another connection to the California Zephyr, allowing trips from those stations to as far as the SF Bay area (with a transfer in Denver). Both of these factors would greatly increase ridership in the new section. My question is, why aren't they considering a logical extension of the proposal to Denver?

https://gazette.com/woodmenedition/money-sought-to-study-bringing-amtrak-s-southwest-chief-train/article_e354d91c-ff4b-11e9-9468-1b85351e1749.html
 
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neroden

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All of these ideas are dormant. The big issue is coal traffic on the lines south of Denver. As this goes away, there is an opportunity to advocate for passenger service.
 

RSG

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It sounds like the stringer who wrote the article for the Gazette actually read the application, but if one is not familiar with the proposal, the article can give a misleading impression.

The purpose of the extension is to connect the currently unserved, and potentially future major stops of Pueblo and Colorado Springs with the current stop of La Junta so the Southwest Chief can continue its east- and westbound routes unimpeded. As such, it's a feeder line which would operate much as a connector bus line does for light rail or subway stations. Consequently, extending it past Colorado Springs and Pueblo isn't practical and would further complicate the service and linking.

The other task of the commission which is spearheading the study is to develop a proposal for north-south passenger rail service initially from Colorado Springs to Denver, with Pueblo service to follow shortly thereafter, and eventually, service to Cheyenne & Albuquerque. If that happens, it will provide a greater benefit and serve a greater population than simply extending a new spur north.

The Colorado Department Of Transportation [CDOT] is providing the technical and bureaucratic expertise to navigate the finer details of making the study happen as well as identifying possible future station locations and connection points with existing transportation options. They are not doing so because they are populated with railfans, but because they see the writing on the wall. The Interstate 25 corridor from Colorado Springs to Wellington (due north of Fort Collins) is already congested--and in some points, California-congested--and is expected to remain so after the completion of another lane north of Colorado Springs to Castle Rock and after a multi-year lane expansion from Castle Rock to north of Denver in the mid-2000s.

The current alternate is a state-owned bus service ("Bustang"), which is operated by several private contractors. Depending on the location and time of day, some of the buses already operate at capacity. This is really just a stop-gap measure, since the need to travel between points will only increase and even adding additional buses doesn't do much to alleviate highway congestion.

Of course nothing will happen until the study is completed and the results are in, but it's a first step to expanding passenger rail service to one of the fastest growing parts of the country.
 

Willbridge

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A few weeks ago, I came across an article (posted below) that talks about funding a study on adding a Colorado Springs branch to the Southwest Chief. (I would call this section the Denver Chief or the Rocky Mountain Chief). While this sounds like a good idea, running it a little further north Denver Union Station should be a no-brainer but wasn't mentioned in the article, implying that the proposal would terminate the new section at Colorado Springs. Is this the case? Running it to Denver would open up trips to Denver from Kansas City - as well as other stops along the SWC from La Junta eastward, and would open up another connection to the California Zephyr, allowing trips from those stations to as far as the SF Bay area (with a transfer in Denver). Both of these factors would greatly increase ridership in the new section. My question is, why aren't they considering a logical extension of the proposal to Denver?

https://gazette.com/woodmenedition/money-sought-to-study-bringing-amtrak-s-southwest-chief-train/article_e354d91c-ff4b-11e9-9468-1b85351e1749.html
The issues were covered in previous posts. Two different projects inspired by ColoRail and supported by local governments and CDOT are in the works and they overlap:

+ Front Range corridor service
+ SW Chief Front Range section

Both ideas can be made feasible, but require hard choices.

-- rwr

http://www.colorail.org
 

PVD

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I've driven Denver to the Springs many times, and for a good part of the drive would see enormous coal freights along the route. With the closure of one major coal plant and the likely closure of another outside of the Springs, volume has to be down considerably. Would that make it more likely for slotting to be available for some front range service that the freights previously opposed, as it would provide revenue that might partially offset decreased freight revenue. I've never driven South from the Springs so i don't know what that looks like.
 

Willbridge

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I've driven Denver to the Springs many times, and for a good part of the drive would see enormous coal freights along the route. With the closure of one major coal plant and the likely closure of another outside of the Springs, volume has to be down considerably. Would that make it more likely for slotting to be available for some front range service that the freights previously opposed, as it would provide revenue that might partially offset decreased freight revenue. I've never driven South from the Springs so i don't know what that looks like.
You've seen the most difficult part, aside from DUS access. Volume is down, but use of main line tracks for sidings continues.
 

sttom

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I've talked with my bf about the passenger rail quite a lot. And there are currently plans to plan a Fort Collins to Pueblo route at some point in the not too distant future. The only thing preventing this from being an Amtrak route is Colorado's weird political structure that makes it impossible for the legislature to raise taxes without putting them to a referendum and a very stringent cap on public spending. This could mean it would be some other company running the trains because they'd foot some of the capital. Also Colorado can't decide on if they want to use conventional equipment or electrify the whole line with equipment that may or may not be allowed to run with other trains. From what he has told me, it would make sense for this corridor to get extended to New Mexico and Cheyenne. New Mexico a few times per day and Cheyenne would make a better end point. Assuming Wyoming would be willing to pay for it.
 

TheTuck

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In a perfect world (one without the 750 mile PRIIA rules, and one with an Amtrak leadership focused on growth) I'd like to see a LAX-DEN route via ABQ. The schedule could compliment the SWC by offering better timings at FLG, and connections to the CZ in DEN.
 

NeueAmtrakCalifornia

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This could mean it would be some other company running the trains because they'd foot some of the capital.
Call in Virgin Trains USA

Also Colorado can't decide on if they want to use conventional equipment or electrify the whole line with equipment that may or may not be allowed to run with other trains.
If they use existing tracks then electrification will be incredibly difficult, if not impossible cuz BNSF and UP would try to block them from electrifying the tracks they own. So they'll have to build new tracks if they ever want to go electric. Also, we're gonna have to find a way to build through tracks for Denver Union Station
 
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Willbridge

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In a perfect world (one without the 750 mile PRIIA rules, and one with an Amtrak leadership focused on growth) I'd like to see a LAX-DEN route via ABQ. The schedule could complement the SWC by offering better timings at FLG, and connections to the CZ in DEN.
Early in the 1970's Amtrak discussed a route concept that would have had a train running CHI-OMA-DEN-ABQ-LAX and another running CHI-KCY-LAJ-DEN-SLC-SF Bay. Loose connections in Denver and Pueblo would have allowed travel on the old routings. The coal boom started and this idea was dropped.
 

sttom

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If they use existing tracks then electrification will be incredibly difficult, if not impossible cuz BNSF and UP would try to block them from electrifying the tracks they own. So they'll have to build new tracks if they ever want to go electric. Also, we're gonna have to find a way to build through tracks for Denver Union Station
That is part of the issue that they have been having with FasTracks, along with a severely diminished sales tax base. Also, the state is so far from doing something at this time, I wouldn't count on any movement prior to 2025. The only way I see it happening is if the state legislature works a deal with Amtrak once there are some Horizon cars available, but since they want sexy and expensive over a working service, I wouldn't hold your breath.

Also Virgin Trains USA? With how poorly their P3 went with DIA, the state might be putting a slight pause on using them. They might have to do a P3, but at the current moment, I think a new one is probably DOA. The short of that is they took the lowest bidder, was going to give them the keys to the castle and they contractor started bilking them. I don't live in Colorado, but that is enough to put the whole P3 concept into question. People there are starting to turn on the idea.
 

RSG

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Call in Virgin Trains USA
If they use existing tracks then electrification will be incredibly difficult, if not impossible cuz BNSF and UP would try to block them from electrifying the tracks they own. So they'll have to build new tracks if they ever want to go electric. Also, we're gonna have to find a way to build through tracks for Denver Union Station
The proposed Front Range rail service would not be electrified, unless it's via a future proposal in an attempt to scuttle it completely.

Also, the hub for any Front Range service would not be at Denver Union Station, but at a to-be-built new location south of downtown. Existing light rail via RTD would commence service at the new hub and that would be the means of connecting with DUS and other light rail lines + Amtrak.
 

NeueAmtrakCalifornia

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The proposed Front Range rail service would not be electrified, unless it's via a future proposal in an attempt to scuttle it completely.

Also, the hub for any Front Range service would not be at Denver Union Station, but at a to-be-built new location south of downtown. Existing light rail via RTD would commence service at the new hub and that would be the means of connecting with DUS and other light rail lines + Amtrak.
Putting it away from downtown stations will neuter ridership considerably (intercity trains work best when it's downtown-downtown) though. On the other hand, doing Union Station through tracks will involve having to build an underground station (and a couple of other things), which is gonna make it incredibly complex.
 

neroden

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Call in Virgin Trains USA



If they use existing tracks then electrification will be incredibly difficult, if not impossible cuz BNSF and UP would try to block them from electrifying the tracks they own. So they'll have to build new tracks if they ever want to go electric. Also, we're gonna have to find a way to build through tracks for Denver Union Station
BNSF is OK with electrification, and has studied it themselves. UP isn't.

But regardless of that, the two big issues are

1. The coal trains. As time passes this is less and less of a problem.
2. The Colorado state government still does not see this as a priority. I think the support is shifting in its favor, but slowly.

Result is that I just don't see anything happening for several more years. Perhaps after TABOR repeal, which seems likely in the next five years.
 
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sttom

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I honestly put 0 hope in constitutional changes on the state level. If we can't even make minor changes to Prop 13 in California when the housing stock has turned over and most people are renting and have crap services, I doubt Tabor would be repealed anytime soon. It's really easy to scare voters into voting against something smart by slapping "billion" to a number

Result is that I just don't see anything happening for several more years. Perhaps after TABOR repeal, which seems likely in the next five years.
 
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neroden

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In Cali, state legislators are afraid to change prop 13. In Colorado, they all hate TABOR. It makes a difference.
 

RSG

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Perhaps after TABOR repeal, which seems likely in the next five years.
I honestly put 0 hope in constitutional changes on the state level. If we can't even make minor changes to Prop 13 in California when the housing stock has turned over and most people are renting and have crap services, I doubt Tabor would be repealed anytime soon. It's really easy to scare voters into voting against something smart by slapping "billion" to a number
In Cali, state legislators are afraid to change prop 13. In Colorado, they all hate TABOR. It makes a difference.
There was already a trial run to gut, on a large scale, TABOR in the November 2019 election.

One of two statewide initiatives on the ballot was to eliminate the TABOR-required tax refunds in years in which projected excess revenues exceed expenditures. It failed, despite media saturation for the measure and a somewhat misleading campaign suggesting that taxes would not increase (technically true, but if you pay a tax and don't receive a refund your taxes effectively did increase) and that the money would be spent on infrastructure, among other things (no legal requirement to spend refunds on anything in particular was in the initiative). [Meanwhile, the other initiative, to permit sports betting--as recently enabled by SCOTUS--and implement a tax on same, passed handily.]

So I don't see any abrogation of TABOR anytime soon. It may not be as resilient as Proposition 13, but even with a state government controlled by Democrats, the results of the campaign in November are a shot across the bow. No one in the legislature may like TABOR, but they don't see the public as backing them in that sentiment. As such, they will be reluctant to do anything more than the steady chipping away at it as has been done over the past 25 years.
 

RSG

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Putting it away from downtown stations will neuter ridership considerably (intercity trains work best when it's downtown-downtown) though.
This is generally true, but I don't think it will have a major impact on downtown Denver, particularly when the suburbs are experiencing as much growth as the urban core. The airport is miles away from downtown and people still come to downtown to take the "Train To The Plane", while others still readily make the trek by passenger vehicle---and others by rideshare or taxi.

Similarly, there have been private services which run shuttles to Fort Collins and Colorado Springs since Stapleton International Airport was in existence---all of which have bypassed downtown. Likewise, I expect that after north-south rail service is established, there will still be people who will rent a vehicle at DIA to go to Colorado Springs or Fort Collins, just as there will be some commuters who will not give up their car to go to either place. But there will be plenty more who will be enticed to travel another way. This doesn't take into consideration that more individuals--particularly the young and those without a nuclear family in their household--don't own cars and rely exclusively on public transportation or for-hire alternatives.
On the other hand, doing Union Station through tracks will involve having to build an underground station (and a couple of other things), which is gonna make it incredibly complex.
The best way to kill this idea is to make it so complex that it drives up the cost and makes people who aren't die-hard supporters question the propriety of the concept in its entirety. (See California High Speed Rail.) Therefore, making it as realistic as possible will be the key to moving it forward.

On an aesthetic level, the underground bus terminal at Denver Union Station works pretty well, but there is no desire to put an NYC Penn Station equivalent in the Mile High City. This is particularly true when all current public transportation is at or slightly below ground level with no history of underground connections.
 

NeueAmtrakCalifornia

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On an aesthetic level, the underground bus terminal at Denver Union Station works pretty well, but there is no desire to put an NYC Penn Station equivalent in the Mile High City. This is particularly true when all current public transportation is at or slightly below ground level with no history of underground connections.
Well, we could instead make DUS rail elevated (I think it would be less complex than DUS underground and have gentler grades, as well as enable Amtrak to continue using its diesels) This, however will come at the cost of having several buildings south of it be demolished. Also, the bus ramp to I-25 HOV will have to be demolished and be made into a tunnel.
At the same time, a Denver elevated rail line can serve as a backbone for building an I-70 rail line in the future.
 

Willbridge

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BNSF is OK with electrification, and has studied it themselves. UP isn't.

But regardless of that, the two big issues are

1. The coal trains. As time passes this is less and less of a problem.
2. The Colorado state government still does not see this as a priority. I think the support is shifting in its favor, but slowly.

Result is that I just don't see anything happening for several more years. Perhaps after TABOR repeal, which seems likely in the next five years.
-Both the UP and BNSF have had experience running under catenary, but all of the employees who knew about it should be retired by now, so the learning curve will start at zero. I'd take the UP's reaction as a typical rail corporation starting point.
 

NeueAmtrakCalifornia

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-Both the UP and BNSF have had experience running under catenary, but all of the employees who knew about it should be retired by now, so the learning curve will start at zero. I'd take the UP's reaction as a typical rail corporation starting point.
Where at exactly? Also, the UP's reaction to Caltrain electric was oppositional but they ultimately relented, though they also decided to stop hosting freights on the SF peninsula and insteal will hand it over to a short-line operator.
 

Willbridge

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Where at exactly? Also, the UP's reaction to Caltrain electric was oppositional but they ultimately relented, though they also decided to stop hosting freights on the SF peninsula and insteal will hand it over to a short-line operator.
The ones that come to mind are the GN's AC operation in the Cascades and the UP's operation under the Milwaukee Road's DC catenary between Tacoma and Seattle. The UP also owned an interurban, the Yakima Valley Traction, for a while, but the TAC-SEA segment is more relevant. (One of the thrills of riding trains when I was a kid was studying the catenary and watching for electrics from the Astra-Domes of the UP pool train. I built catenary for my Lionel layout; it worked just well enough.)

For more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Railroad_electrification_in_the_United_States
 
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