It’s rails versus trails at upcoming RFTA meeting
Supporters of both trails and rails are expected to make their cases at the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority Board meeting on Thursday. That’s when the RFTA board plans to revisit its decision against selling the tracks along the valley’s railroad corridor to a company for scrap. In July, Salt Lake City-based A&K Railroad Materials, a company that purchases old railroad tracks for resale, offered RFTA $900,000 for 34 miles of track between Glenwood Springs and Woody Creek. The company also offered to grade the trackbed for use as a trail. Some people have since argued that once the tracks in the corridor are gone and trails are put in, it would be impossible to change it back. Others, however, say that it would be foolhardy to pass up such a large chunk of cash and grading services in a time when RFTA is hurting for money. Railroad supporters Jon Busch, Pat Girardot and Dick Helmke gave some reasons they think the train tracks should stay where they are. “I referred to it in my column as bait-and-switch. It looks too good to be true and it probably is,” Busch said.
Busch writes a column for the Aspen Daily News. Former Glenwood Springs City Councilman Don “Hooner” Gillespie has been getting his arguments out by writing letters to the editors of area newspapers. In these letters, Gillespie has been trying to convince area government officials – and the public at-large – that RFTA should rethink its decision. “To me, to deny public access and use of that corridor for the next 20 years just seems crazy,” Gillespie said. “There’s a very, very big doubt out there that rail could ever be feasible anyway.”Busch said another concern he and his rail enthusiast colleagues have is that A&K’s offer will wind up being a lot less money than what appears at the surface. “It is oversimplified, first of all,” he said. “A&K didn’t promise $900,000, they said it was subject to an investigation.”He said the $900,000 figure was pulled out of the air. Gillespie argues that whatever the track is worth – even if it’s not worth $900,000 – it’s smart to pull up the track now and make way for trails. “It’s going to be a lot less hassle to rip out asphalt than to rip out an old rail that’s all rotted,” he said. Gillespie also noted that the rail corridor is banked, so if RFTA ever wants to put in a railroad, track will have legal priority over any trail that’s put in.
Glenwood Springs City Councilman Bruce Christensen is also in favor of selling the tracks and building trails. “I have two issues,” he said. “One is the rail that is on there now is not useable for any real rail service.”Christensen said he’s a supporter of getting rail service, but he feels it will be decades before the corridor is actually used for a train. “It has high salvage value now, but in 30 or 40 years, there could be a huge cost to remove it,” he said. Helmke and Girardot have other reasons they want to see the track left alone. • They, and people around town, like using the speeder car that runs up and down the lower valley. • They want to preserve it in case a dinner train wants to come in and cater to locals and tourists. • They feel that once the track is gone, development will encroach on the track and although the corridor will legally still put a train as the No. 1 use, they feel public opinion will quash that idea. “We’re going to give up the last little bit of history we have; and it’s incredible,” Helmke said.
Busch agreed with Helmke’s take. “I really think the biggest and scariest problem is: Can you ever replace the rail?” he asked. “Once the trail is in, it really is done.”Christensen said if the tracks are removed, it would allow bicyclists and pedestrians to move about the entire valley without having to use Highway 82. As it stands now, the stretch around the Buffalo Valley Restaurant is the only place in the valley that’s only accessible by using the highway, a situation Christensen said is dangerous. “I just don’t understand how we can keep a horribly unsafe situation for such a small amount of people,” he said. RFTA executive director Dan Blankenship said the RFTA Board has a policy that the tracks won’t be sold for scrap. But with RFTA in a poor financial situation and steel prices at an all-time high, he thinks it’s possible the board will at least want to look a bit further into the offer. “I would just imagine I’ll be asked for more information on it at this meeting,” Blankenship said.Contact Greg Massé: 945-8515, ext. email@example.com
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