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Dinner train proposal is dead

The dream of a dinner train has been derailed.After spending nearly $25,000 to assess if dinner and tourist train service was feasible between Glenwood Springs and Carbondale, the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority’s board of directors concluded Thursday it wasn’t.The board voted 8-0 to discontinue negotiations with the only company that had responded to a request for proposals for train service.Iowa Pacific Holdings LLC, a Chicago-based company, wanted to run one dinner and four tourist trains every day throughout the year. It also proposed storing and fixing freight cars on a scenic section of tracks between Catherine Bridge and Rock Bottom Ranch.After three hours of deliberations, RFTA’s board concluded that Iowa Pacific’s proposal was too risky. There was no guarantee that the service would make enough money to split profits with RFTA, said consultant Charles Montange, a Seattle attorney who is advising the agency on rail issues.In addition, Montange said, the plan could have required RFTA to use its assets to guarantee loans Iowa Pacific needed to start service. It also could have forced RFTA into funding potentially costly freight service to anyone that requested it in the valley.But the biggest hurdle for allowing a dinner train was the expense it would have added to building a pedestrian trail in the corridor. RFTA estimated that using the corridor for a train service would have added $3.2 million to the cost of a trail.RFTA board members weren’t willing to swallow that extra expense. Arnie Mordkin, a Snowmass Village councilman and RFTA board member, suggested Iowa Pacific be given a chance to pay the $3.2 million if RFTA allowed it to start service.Other board members said that would be a waste of time. “You want to send them a proposal that would be impossible for them to accept?” asked Ed Cortez, a Carbondale trustee.A motion by Mordkin to continue the negotiations failed in a 4-4 tie vote. The next motion to discontinue negotiations passed 8-0.Iowa Pacific Holdings President Edwin Ellis said he wasn’t surprised by the outcome. When he met with RFTA officials to examine the rail corridor and discuss the request for proposals it was obvious that the timely completion of a trail was an important component. Establishing the rail service would have delayed trail construction, Ellis said.”What it really comes down to is they had to decide if they want a railroad or not. It’s pretty clear they didn’t,” Ellis said.His company operates three shortline railroads. RFTA officials said Iowa Pacific seemed to be a very reputable company. Ellis said he felt his firm turned in a “quality proposal” for service in the Roaring Fork Valley.”We weren’t looking for a subsidy,” he said. “This would have been self-supporting service.”


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