They may support Uinta Basin Railway, but at least Garfield County commissioners want oil trains to go slower |

They may support Uinta Basin Railway, but at least Garfield County commissioners want oil trains to go slower

A Union Pacific freight train kicks up snow as it barrels down the tracks along Interstate 70 west of Glenwood Springs a few years ago.
File/Post Independent

Amid their recent expressions of support for more oil-hauling trains chugging through the region, Garfield County commissioners also have stamped their support for the potential influx of trains to ride a little slower through town.

On Monday, Commissioners Tom Jankovsky, Mike Samson and John Martin unanimously agreed to sign a letter of support for the town of New Castle, encouraging trains to slow down when they roll through its limits.

The letter specifically acknowledges county support for New Castle to enroll state and federal officials in “a quest to improve rail safety through town.” This includes reducing freight and passenger train speeds.

“I don’t think you’ll find anybody in Garfield County, per se, that is going to be against this movement,” Samson said. “The big mountain to climb will be the railroad.”

“I think it’s a reasonable request. I just hope they see it that way and will be willing to work with you on it.”

The letter of support emerges as the proposed Uinta Basin Railway, set to increase train traffic 26 times higher than the normal numbers through New Castle, continues to come under statewide and national scrutiny from politicians and environmentalists. 

The proposed Uinta Basin Railway would transport waxy crude from oil fields in Utah to refineries on the Gulf Coast. The journey will run right through Garfield County, including New Castle, a town that straddles the Colorado River and was the site of a tragic Union Pacific train/pedestrian collision that left a local librarian dead in November 2022.

In 1888, the Colorado Midland Railroad reached New Castle, “affording mine owners to transport coal to market,” the letter states, “and the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad continued tracks west toward Grand Junction.” The line itself runs just south of Main Street through downtown, and receives two Amtrak and several more freight trains per day. 

“The last time we heard from the railroad was when we put the pedestrian bridge over the railroad tracks five years ago,” New Castle Mayor Art Riddile told commissioners on Monday. “No, more than that — seven years ago.”

Garnering a letter of support from the Garfield County Commission could be just the catalyst for convincing legislators and officials to jump aboard the safety train, according to New Castle City Council member Caitlin Carey, who joined Riddile in going before the commission Monday.

“We have reached out to a number of individuals in the event that you need to reference that in a cover letter,” Carey said. “Senator Will, Representative Velasco, Representative Froelich — who is a Front Range representative but she’s on transportation — Senator Bridges, who is a friend of a friend who was recommended to help us make some noise, Senator Bennett, Senator Hickenlooper, Representative Neguse, and I’ve reached out to Lauren Boebert’s office, as well.” 

New Castle is also currently putting together an updated emergency plan, Carey said, adding she’s received a handful of requests from residents for town hall meetings over train safety.

“We want every town to have that emergency response and then coordinate everything with the sheriffs and emergency as well as all the fire districts and rescue folks,” Martin said. “We also have to throw in CSP (Colorado State Patrol) and CDOT (Colorado Department of Transportation). 

“And so please invite them as well to your community.”

Jankovsky, just prior to voting on the letter, requested that the fatal train collision in New Castle be noted on the document and that further language on the letter be changed from improving rail safety by “reassessing allowed speed” to “reducing allowed speed.”

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