Transportation  January 5, 2024

Editorial: Rail proposal for Front Range worth considering

It’s too early to endorse efforts to bring passenger rail service to the Front Range, but initial plans to launch service from Fort Collins to Pueblo are intriguing.

Far too much remains uncertain about the effort, which could cost $2.8 billion just for a starter system, but the project’s recent selection for the federal Corridor Identification and Development Program — with $500,000 in seed money — is a good beginning.

Front Range Passenger Rail would use the existing Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway freight line in Northern Colorado, and the Consolidated Mainline south of Denver. That’s far less expensive than laying entirely new tracks for passenger service.

Inclusion of the project in the federal Corridor Identification and Development Program means that the project is in the running for additional federal funding. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law included $66 billion in funding for passenger rail development.

Front Range Passenger Rail recently gave initial approval to a proposed route for the service, taking in communities such as Fort Collins, Loveland, Longmont, Boulder and beyond.

While the proposed route does not run through Weld County — part of which is in the passenger rail district — it does include many of the population centers along the Front Range.

And it could have the ancillary benefit of finally addressing rail service from Westminster through Boulder to Longmont, which was promised in the Fastracks project undertaken by the Regional Transportation District.

But RTD ran out of money to complete that portion of Fastracks any time soon. Still, given that Front Range Passenger Rail — to be operated by Amtrak — would use the same BNSF line, it’s possible that RTD could piggyback on the Front Range rail project

Much remains unknown, however. Under consideration is a tax within the Front Range Passenger Rail district, which encompasses counties along the Interstate 25 corridor. The magnitude of the proposed tax — and the timing — remain uncertain. Any tax would require approval from voters within the district, with one option being to have the question on the November 2024 ballot.

How big of a tax would we be looking at? What role could RTD potentially play, and what funds could it bring to bear? How does the Front Range Passenger Rail address concerns from Greeley and Weld County about being left out of the proposed route?

And, given cost overruns for Fastracks — and for most public-infrastructure projects, it’s unclear whether the project could come in under budget.

All of these questions, and more, remain to be answered. But it’s a step in the right direction that the idea is being explored.

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