City’s street plans doomed tourist train idea, backer says |

City’s street plans doomed tourist train idea, backer says

Dennis WebbGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. A partner in a proposal to operate a tourist train in Glenwood Springs says the city’s latest plans for extending a downtown street derailed the plan.Kip Wheeler of Aspen said a proposed relocation of tracks downtown to save the city money on extending Eighth Street precluded operating the train there.”We were very close to signing a lease with RFTA when all of this sort of unraveled,” Wheeler said.The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority owns the rail corridor running south from Union Pacific’s east-west line running through Glenwood. The city has been talking with UP about shifting tracks in its wye intersection area downtown so the city can extend Eighth Street without having to build an expensive underpass.Wheeler said that would eliminate a freight depot the tourist train proponents had hoped to use, forcing the train to stop farther from downtown and creating parking problems.He said train backers realized city officials “had no vision for an excursion train in the future.”City manager Jeff Hecksel said the city’s plans for the wye area may have been one factor in doing in the tourist train idea, but he thinks there were others as well. He said he didn’t think backers had taken into account the need for parking, rest rooms and other passenger accommodations.Wheeler called city officials “somewhat pompous when it came down to a discussion of shared parking in that area.”Hecksel said the city openly discussed the possibility of the city sharing parking with the train operation.”The way I look at it is, we were trying to be helpful,” he said.He said the city also tried to suggest alternatives that might have accommodated both the tourist train and a redesign of the wye area. For example, it recommended that instead of using the freight depot, the train use another building down the tracks from it.But Hecksel said the city can’t afford to accommodate the train if it means passing up on an Eighth Street design that could save it hundreds of thousands of dollars.The city, Union Pacific and other interested landowners have yet to reach an agreement regarding that design. But Wheeler said rail backers couldn’t afford to wait for a decision by the city. He said they already had obtained insurance, were on a tight budget and had counted on starting up operations this summer.He said any remaining hopes for a tourist train died when RFTA’s board this month gave permission to tear up the tracks from 23rd Street to the city’s southern boundary.”The excursion train route would be so short it would hardly be an excursion train,” Wheeler said.RFTA made its decision based on the train supporters withdrawing their plan. RFTA wants to salvage the tracks and ties in that area for their financial value, and eventually extend a valleywide recreation trail along the rail corridor to 23rd Street. That will be easier to do if the tracks are gone.City Council member Dave Merritt, who had supported the concept of a tourist train in Glenwood, thinks the idea died earlier, when RFTA decided to tear out the tracks farther south of Glenwood. Originally, the train was to have run almost four miles, going as far south as Orrison Distributing. With the tracks south of town removed, the train ride would have been confined to city limits.”Everything I have seen on trains around the country, where I have ridden them, they’re longer than that,” Merritt said.Contact Dennis Webb: 384-9119dwebb@postindependent.comPost Independent, Glenwood Springs Colorado CO

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