Government & Politics  December 11, 2023

Proposed route selected for Front Range Passenger Rail

The Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway freight route between Fort Collins and Pueblo was determined today to be the best route for passenger rail service along the Front Range.

On an 11-1 vote, members of the board of the Front Range Passenger Rail District, an entity established by the Colorado Legislature in 2021, decided to pursue use of the BNSF line instead of alternative routes. The existing freight line offers a less-expensive approach to establishing passenger rail along the Front Range because it already exists and because it passes through the most population centers.

Voting against the route determination today was William Karspeck, mayor of Berthoud, who objected not because of the route but because the maps drawn and language in the resolutions failed to list communities such as Berthoud.

The BNSF line passes through downtown Berthoud.

Instead of language that spelled out by name Fort Collins, Loveland, Longmont, Boulder, Denver, South Metro, Castle Rock, Colorado Springs and Pueblo, Karspeck asked that it simply say “Northern BNSF alignment.” He shared concerns of small communities such as Berthoud, where town boards are upset about being left out of the process and discussions that could ultimately result in being bypassed when it comes to determining passenger boarding stations.

While he didn’t mention it, the Front Range Passenger Rail Corridor Project Inventory Report, which included the routing map, also began to identify potential stations.

Some members of the district board were quick to point out that the decision Monday was only about the route, not the stations.

“This is a decision on where the train is going, not where it stops. The ‘where it stops’ decision is coming,” said board member John Putnam.

Karspeck, however, said it appeared that stations — at least communities that would have stations — were identified on the map, which staff member Chrissy Breit said was just meant to identify the route for the public.

Board member Johnny Olson reminded the board that identifying a route doesn’t lock it in. “We’re approving the route based on SDP (Service Development Plan), but we’re not approving based on the environmental process. Until the EIS is complete, this isn’t final. We are determining the route based on our priorities and goals; this is the best route based on the information we have. We still have a long lift in front of us,” he said.

Olson, who is a member of the Greeley City Council, said he would vote in favor of the route, because it meets the criteria that the district had to work with, but he provided a caveat: Weld County and Greeley does not directly benefit from the route, and thus may not support the taxation decision that will come later.

The district has until April to determine whether to place a tax proposal on the 2024 ballot, as encouraged by Gov. Jared Polis.

Multiple board members raised concerns about those areas within the potential taxing district that will not directly benefit from the route. They wanted language to assure that consideration will be given to expansion — spur lines, perhaps — in future years. 

The board did add language to specify that station decisions will come later and were not part of the vote Monday.

Putnam noted that “If you look at the Southwest Chief or California Zephyr passenger lines, there are stops in smaller places, but they don’t stop at every location.” He said it could be determined that some trains such as commuter lines would stop in multiple locations but express trains would have fewer stops. 

Karspeck noted that smaller communities haven’t been part of those discussions. “You need to involve these communities other than just be Denver focused,” he said.

The Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway freight route between Fort Collins and Pueblo was determined today to be the best route for passenger rail service along the Front Range.

On an 11-1 vote, members of the board of the Front Range Passenger Rail District, an entity established by the Colorado Legislature in 2021, decided to pursue use of the BNSF line instead of alternative routes. The existing freight line offers a less-expensive approach to establishing passenger rail along the Front Range because it already exists and because it passes through the most population centers.

Voting against the route determination today was William…

Ken Amundson
Ken Amundson is managing editor of BizWest. He has lived in Loveland and reported on issues in the region since 1987. Prior to Colorado, he reported and edited for news organizations in Minnesota and Iowa. He's a parent of two and grandparent of four, all of whom make their homes on the Front Range. A news junkie at heart, he also enjoys competitive sports, especially the Rapids.
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