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RFTA may not reconsider decision

A local rail advocate says the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority board failed to consider a proposed train operation fully before deciding to tear up its tracks last month to make way for trails.But the board’s new chairman says he’s leaning against pushing for the board to reconsider its decision.Jan Girardot, of Glenwood Springs, said he asked new chairman Dan Richardson to take a closer look at the train proposal, because the board never saw the full proposal and relied on biased summaries of what it contained.”We’re waiting for hopefully a revisiting of this issue,” said Girardot, president of the Western Colorado Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society.A renewed discussion doesn’t sound likely at this point.”My gut feeling right now is that I haven’t been presented any new information that I believe is worthy of reconsideration, but I’m still thinking it over,” said Richardson, who also is a Glenwood Springs City Council member.Girardot contends that RFTA failed to take a serious look at a proposal Iowa Pacific Holdings submitted. The Chicago company proposed investing $1.35 million in locomotives and passenger cars, and about $1.1 million more in stations and other structures, and track and crossing upgrades.It also said it would transport well in excess of 100,000 passengers per year on excursion and dinner trains, create 18 jobs paying $563,000 per year, and further boost the local economy through loading and unloading goods between freight trains and trucks, and operating a freight car repair facility.Girardot said RFTA chief executive officer Dan Blankenship and consultants emphasized negatives in their reports to the board, saying the train wouldn’t produce enough revenue and would leave RFTA in debt.”They took the story and they steered it to their own agenda,” Girardot said.”There’s nothing bad about it,” he said of the proposal. “Why should we not want to do this sort of thing?”Richardson said he always assumed a train would generate economic benefits. The issue was the amount of risk associated with it.As both a board member and Glenwood council member, he often must rely on staff members to distill information for consideration, Richardson said. After reviewing the full Iowa Pacific Holdings proposal at Girardot’s request, he believes Blankenship accurately represented it in his summary.”There was really no new information in the proposal that we didn’t see in Dan’s analysis,” Richardson said.At the same time, he said part of Blankenship’s job is to present his own opinions on how the board should proceed.Girardot said he thinks Blankenship and some other RFTA staff wanted to tear up the rail from the start, dragged their heels in seeking train proposals, and then set up unrealistic requirements such as a $25 million insurance policy to keep entities from submitting proposals. He said he also believes that if the local governments with representatives on RFTA had seen Iowa Pacific’s proposal beforehand, more would have voted to have their representatives support keeping the tracks.Richardson said Glenwood’s council left the issue of whether to pursue a train operation up to RFTA, and was only interested in whether salvaging should occur if no such operation is approved. Richardson had opposed the tracks’ removal, but voted for it as the city’s representative on the RFTA board after a majority of Glenwood’s council endorsed the idea.Meanwhile, the city’s Historic Preservation Commission, whose members include Girardot, decided this week that the removal of rail will have a negative historical impact. Mike Pelletier, a city planner, said the Colorado Department of Transportation asked the commission for its opinion because federal law requires CDOT to consider the historical impact on a rail corridor of selling the rail for salvage. But RFTA still can proceed with the action, Pelletier said. He said the city commission decided that upgrading rail would maintain the corridor’s historical integrity, but turning it into a recreation path would not.Some commission members said they want Glenwood’s council to reconsider its support for tearing up the tracks, Pelletier said.”But they don’t have any authority to tell them to do that,” he said.Richardson said he thinks it isn’t too late for the board to reconsider its decision. Trail work planned for this summer doesn’t depend on track removal, RFTA has yet to hire a company to do the work, and it also hasn’t decided how it would use the money it would make from salvaging the rail.But any reconsideration would have to take place soon so RFTA’s staff knows how to proceed, he said.


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