Colorado lawmakers say derailment ‘likely’ in another letter to Biden administration calling for a halt to Uinta Basin Railway Project |

Colorado lawmakers say derailment ‘likely’ in another letter to Biden administration calling for a halt to Uinta Basin Railway Project

John LaConte
Vail Daily
Heated tanker cars roll west through Glenwood Springs in fall 2022.
John Stroud/Post Independent

Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack have received another letter from Colorado lawmakers, including Garfield County’s two legislators, calling for a halt to the Uinta Basin Railway Project.

The railway project aims to create a new railway connection in Utah which would link up with an existing rail line in Colorado that runs through Garfield and Eagle counties along the Colorado River.

While project supporters say it will “move goods in a safe and cost-effective way,” detractors say they’re not convinced those goods — waxy crude oil extracted in Utah’s Uinta Basin — can be transported safely these days amid all the train derailments which have been happening in the United States.

The most recent letter to the Biden administration sent March 21 was authored by a bipartisan group of Colorado state lawmakers including state Sens. Perry Will of New Castle and Dylan Roberts of Avon, and state Rep. Elizabeth Velasco of Glenwood Springs. It follows a letter sent by Sen. Michael Bennet and Rep. Joe Neguse earlier this month; both letters reference the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, which is estimated to have caused the death of more than 40,000 aquatic animals and was deemed “100% preventable” by the chair of the National Transportation Safety Board.

The latest letter said a spill on the proposed Uinta Basin Railway Project is “not only a possibility, it is likely,” in light of the recent train derailment in Ohio and other high-profile train accidents across the country.

The letter was also signed by Colorado House Speaker Julie McCluskie and Reps. Meghan Lukens and Barbara McLachlan.

The full text of the letter follows:

Dear Secretary Buttigieg and Secretary Vilsack,

As legislators who represent the areas of Western Colorado that would be impacted directly by the Uinta Basin Railway Project, we write to share our significant concerns and opposition to this project. We ask that you carefully consider this project’s potential impact, including the devastating damage it could do to public health, our water resources, our environment, and our economy, when making the respective decisions charged to your departments. Further, we find the potential use of public taxpayer dollars through government approved tax-exempt private activity bonds (PABs) to finance this project to be highly objectionable, and we would strongly urge this approach to financing be rejected.

As you are aware, the Uinta Basin Railway Project would involve the shipment of heated waxy crude oil from Utah through Colorado, totaling as much as 350,000 barrels on ten, two-mile trains per day. This is immensely concerning given that the rail line runs right alongside the headwaters of the Colorado River and its tributaries, which provide water to over 40 million people in the Western United States, irrigate millions of acres of agricultural land, and drive our outdoor recreation and tourism industries, which are critical to our region’s and state’s economies.

In light of the recent train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio and other high-profile train accidents across the country over the years, a spill on this rail line is not only a possibility, it is likely. Such a spill would contaminate the local and regional water supply, as well as likely impact downstream consumers across the West. Given the heated nature of this transport and the widespread drought we are experiencing, this project also further increases the risk of wildfire ignition across the Western Slope. By threatening our water supply and increasing wildfire risk, this project would be truly catastrophic to our constituents, our communities, and our environment.

Our concerns with this project are grave and cannot be understated. We strongly urge you and your partners in the federal government to conduct a more thorough risk analysis in light of recent events and our pressing concerns regarding water supply and wildfire. While we understand and support the desire to increase domestic energy supply, the potential negative impacts of this project far outweigh any economic benefit. Imperiling the future of our environment and the natural resources we depend on and treasure is not a decision that should be taken lightly. Domestic energy development can and should happen through other means than this project.

A vast coalition of constituents that we represent on the Western Slope are opposed to this project, and we stand with them in this call to put a stop to this dangerous project that would jeopardize our long-term public peace, health, and safety.

Vail Daily reporter John LaConte can be reached at

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