New excursion train idea gains steam in Glenwood
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood-area railroad tracks could be kept out of the salvage yard under a new proposal to run a short excursion train south of town.
Glenwood Springs City Council Thursday night voted 6-1 to encourage further exploration of the idea for using the northern end of the Roaring Fork Valley railroad corridor for the train. However, two council members voiced reservations about the plan, include its potential impacts on plans to build a recreational trail on the corridor, as well as on automotive traffic and residents living near the tracks.
The decision is up to the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority, of which Glenwood Springs is a member. Glenwood council member Dan Richardson, who also is chairman of the RFTA board, spoke in support of taking a closer look at the plan.
The Glenwood Heritage Train would run for about 3.75 miles, traveling less than 10 mph, and would charge an average of $13 per rider, according to the operator’s proposal. It is offering to lease 4.75 miles from RFTA, from the railroad wye in downtown Glenwood Springs to Orrison Distributing, for $30,000 per year.
The 10-year lease could be terminated immediately if RFTA decided to install high-speed rail transit in the corridor. The train would consist of a passenger car, engine, caboose, and open gondola car.
It initially would offer two trips per day on weekends during summer months, with the possibility of expanding service later. The operators would provide various entertainment themes focusing on the valley’s history and the role of trains in that history.
The service would be capable of carrying 65 riders per train, and some 8,300 riders its first season. It would generate $27,000 in monthly revenue, according to the proposal. Glenwood Heritage Train would upgrade the track and signals along the route and provide equipment and cars.
Glenwood Heritage Train’s president is Matt Armitage of Boulder, who had proposed a larger-scale dinner train earlier this year from Glenwood Springs to Carbondale.
RFTA had requested excursion train proposals. However, questioning the finances of the deal and citing other concerns, RFTA’s board decided against further considering a tourist train. Instead, it voted to sell its rail for salvage, and proceed with building a trail on the corridor.
However, Richardson said the board left open the possibility of considering other tourist train proposals, and has decided to allow for the possibility of sparing the rail from Orrison Distributing to Glenwood for an excursion train.
He said RFTA needs better cost estimates for the proposal, including the cost of building a trail off the rail bed, and would be losing salvage revenue. But it would be keeping an asset, he said.
“My personal opinion is, I think this is a great opportunity for Glenwood and RFTA. Unlike the other proposals, I don’t think we have a lot to lose,” he said.
“It’s too good of an idea to pass up without doing a little more due diligence,” he said. “I think Glenwood has a lot to gain from this.”
Two local tourism industry representatives agreed. Jim Hawkins, who runs a bed-and-breakfast up Four-Mile Road, said heritage tourism is a catch phrase in the industry, and a means of attracting more people to Glenwood Springs.
“The more pieces of the puzzle that we can put together to make it interesting for people to come here, I think it’s very important that we do that,” he said. “… It stands to help Glenwood Springs out more than just the value of some scrap rail.”
Steve Beckley, owner of Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, said the city needs ways to stand out as it competes with other resort communities for tourists.
“Anything that makes us different from everybody else, the better for us,” he said.
Mayor Larry Emery raised some cautions about the idea, however, including how trains crossing streets would affect traffic in town. “This is going to be operated during our busy tourism season when we’re trying to get traffic to flow.
The train also would go through some people’s back yards, he said. And once it’s operating, RFTA would be legally obligated to allow freight trains as well, which could be a financial liability, he said.
“RFTA studied this longer and harder than we did,” Emery said.
Council member Bruce Christensen said he is willing to support the idea, but only if some questions are answered to his satisfaction. One of his chief concerns is how much more it would cost for a corridor trail to be built alongside the rails, particularly at narrow pinch points, and whether the proposal might delay the trail construction by as much as two or three years.
But council member Dave Merritt cited the popularity of tourist trains elsewhere and said he thinks the proposal has great potential.
“I think we should try to jump on this train and go with it,” he said.
Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. 516
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