Rail preservationists save small slice of valley railroad
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. Preservationists once dreamed of saving miles of railroad tracks along the Roaring Fork Valley corridor. They’ll have to settle for several city blocks’ worth instead.Railroad enthusiasts have successfully prevailed upon the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority board to leave in place the tracks between 14th and 23rd streets in Glenwood Springs.Glenwood resident Jan Girardot, with the Western Colorado chapter of the National Railway Historical Society, said the group is planning to run its speeder cars on the short stretch beginning this summer for public education purposes. The small cars are powered by automotive engines and once were used for maintenance on local tracks.It’s a far cry from railroad proponents’ original hopes of keeping all of the tracks in the corridor in place for possible use by commuter or tourist trains. RFTA has torn up most of the tracks for their salvage value and to ease installation of a trail along the corridor.At one point, proponents had pushed to preserve tracks between Glenwood and Carbondale for a tourist train. Without a solid proposal in place, RFTA decided over time to continue removing stretches of rail, and tourist train advocates kept adjusting their plans. One plan was for the train to run as far south as Orrison Distributing south of Glenwood, and more recently it would have had to stop at city limits.Tourist train partner Kip Wheeler of Aspen said the idea finally died due to potential problems created by the city of Glenwood Springs’ plans to reconfigure the area of the railroad “wye” intersection downtown, where the city is planning to extend Eighth Street.Now RFTA plans to begin removing tracks in Glenwood. However, Girardot and fellow valley railroad advocate Jon Busch convinced the board last week to stop at 23rd Street because the valley rail corridor trail can tie in there with the city’s existing trail running parallel to the tracks. The tracks must remain in place north of 14th Street to accommodate the wye intersection.Rail proponents had continued to want to preserve the tracks south of 23rd as well. RFTA Executive Director Dan Blankenship said while the board didn’t agree to that, it went along with saving the remaining tracks even though it might cost the agency a little more revenue from salvage operations.Blankenship said RFTA lost about $300,000 when it delayed salvage of tracks south of Glenwood. At the time, the salvage company had a place where it could use the tracks rather than just reselling them for scrap.RFTA has made about $1.1 million so far salvaging tracks. Because of the small amount of remaining track and the cost of mobilization by a salvage company, RFTA doesn’t expect to generate significant revenue from the tracks that remain. But having the tracks salvaged will save the cost of paying someone to remove and dump the rails and ties.Removing the rail also reduces the cost of building the trail in narrow spots where it otherwise is hard to accommodate both the trail and tracks.Blankenship said that with the city trail already in place, he doesn’t see a need for RFTA to remove the rail north of 23rd Street. He recognizes the tracks’ historic value and hopes Girardot and others can take advantage of that.Girardot said his group is planning to provide weekend rides in the summer, promoting awareness among children and others who never have been exposed to rail travel.”It’s a fun ride even though it’s a really short ride,” he said.He said the nonprofit group already has plenty of insurance for such an operation, and doesn’t require state Public Utilities Commission approval because the remaining tracks won’t intersect with any state highways. The speeder car would cross sparsely traveled Riverside Drive, but Girardot said it would stop before crossing the street, and a flagger would get out to provide for safe passage.Girardot said it’s been frustrating to have so much of the valley’s tracks torn up despite years of efforts to save them.”You can’t believe the amount of stomach acid it’s caused me and the other people that were involved in it. It’s been really, really tough,” he said.Blankenship said the valley just doesn’t have the population to make a commuter train feasible now because of the huge expense involved. He thinks RFTA’s board has tried to accommodate rail enthusiasts all along the way regarding a tourist train, but said it was hard to continue losing time and money without a concrete proposal ever being presented.Girardot said rail supporters had to deal all along with the reality of the fact that the rail corridor was preserved by trail supporters, using Great Outdoors Colorado money intended for trail use. But he hopes an educational effort on the short stretch of tracks in Glenwood will serve as a reminder of the importance of rail transportation, something he thinks someday again will become vital to the Roaring Fork Valley.Contact Dennis Webb: firstname.lastname@example.orgPost Independent, Glenwood Springs Colorado CO
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