Letter: We’ve been railroaded

Eric McCafferty
Glenwood Springs

This is not an “I-told-you-so” letter. Rather, it is submitted to hopefully focus the discussion relative to the RFTA railroad corridor, which snakes from Glenwood Springs almost to Aspen.

When the corridor was purchased, I was the senior land use planner for Garfield County. I no longer do that job, yet remember all the arguments against and the governmental self-congratulations that went along with the purchase. I was requested by the then Garfield County commissioners to provide an analysis of the merits of the purchase, while also providing some of the potential pitfalls.

My analysis fell on deaf ears.

It was clear to me at the time, and clear to nearly all who follow this matter now, that the corridor was more of a land use tool, primarily to thwart downvalley development, than it was to ever operate a railroad, for freight or passenger service, or otherwise. In fact, a few years after the purchase, RFRHA or RFTA or whatever they were calling themselves at the time, had the opportunity to run a potentially viable railroad and declined.

A private individual wanted to lease the right of way between Glenwood and Carbondale and run a dinner train. RFTA had no intention of running a railroad. A couple years later, RFTA ripped up the rails and sold them for scrap, ensuring that no pesky train would operate on the corridor for the foreseeable future. Insisting railbanking is the means to the end of eventually restoring rail service and to declare that the corridor is still perfectly intact is an obfuscation of the facts.

Face it folks: The rail corridor, as it is currently owned and managed, severely limits and restricts local governments’ land use and development policies. Threatening the railbanking status of the corridor is the only valid option downvalley governments have in restoring local and proper land use control. It will at least get RFTA to the table to negotiate access to private lands, instead of allowing RFTA carte blanche to deny access as they currently threaten.

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