Railway on track to cut traffic

Fewer trains could be rumbling through Windsor soon under plans by Great Western Railway to make $10 million in upgrades.

The changes will mean fewer delays for motorists waiting for trains to clear tracks and fewer nights of sleep interrupted by trains heading in or out of the Great Western Industrial Park just east of town.

But first the company needs to find the money.

The Windsor Town Council agreed earlier this month to act as the lead applicant for a grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation. The grant would provide Great Western affiliate OmniTrax, which manages the short-line railway, with the dollars it needs.

Part of the plan includes constructing a three-track switching yard inside the industrial park, moving the yard from its current location within town limits.

Doing so would reduce rail-related congestion in Windsor by 50 percent, according to Mike Ogborn, managing director of OmniTrax.

At the moment, the majority of the problem occurs near the intersection of Highways 257 and 392. A bypass constructed with the grant money would help ease the issue, Ogborn said.

Rail traffic has been on the rise in Windsor over the past five years, according to Town Manager Kelly Arnold.

“Prior to that, we had kind of forgotten what it was like to have active rail,” Arnold said. But then, in 2007, Vestas Blades moved into the industrial park and began shipping out massive wind turbine blades using the 80-mile Great Western Railway, which was founded in 1901.

The town has invested in ensuring its residents remain safe, making improvement to crossings over the last three years.

Great Western has also worked to minimize the impact of its trains. The railway, which connects to both Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Sana Fe lines, has attempted to avoid trains moving through neighborhoods at night, given that noise is one of the complaints most often heard from residents, according to Arnold.

The improvements envisioned will go a long way in helping, Ogborn said, but rail traffic will not disappear from Windsor altogether.

“There will still be some traffic from Fort Collins making its way through town,” he said.

The plan also includes the rehabilitation of two bridges, one spanning the Cache la Poudre River between Windsor and Greeley, and the other near the Water Valley development in Windsor along Highway 257, according to Clay Drake, director of business development for the Great Western Industrial Park.

The 10 companies within the park, which use the rail for shipping everything from crude oil to blades for wind turbines, will see increased efficiency in their deliveries. Companies within the park, which include Vestas, Owens-Illinois and Hexcel, collectively employ approximately 1,300 people.

The money for the project would come from the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER, program, which is part of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The Town of Windsor’s cooperation is needed because applicants for the grant must be governmental entities.

Great Western applied for a TIGER grant in its third round in the fall of 2011, Drake said, but the amount requested exceeded $30 million, much more than the $10 million to $15 million awards that were awarded at the time.

“We pared it down,” Drake said.

Word on whether the town and the railroad get the money is expected in April. If they do, construction would be completed by the end of 2013.

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