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Rails and trails can coexist

Considerable energy has been put into justifying removal of the train tracks in the publicly owned (administered by the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority) transportation corridor between Glenwood and Carbondale in favor of installing a hiking and biking trail. It is our view that constructing the trail need not require removing the tracks, that these two uses of the corridor can coexist, and, indeed, should in order that all segments of our local population plus our tourist guests can enjoy the recreational potentials and future value of the corridor.We would like to address two areas of concern in support of our side. One is the value of recreational use of the tracks by both tourists and locals. The other is the viability of operating various lightweight train vehicles on the existing tracks with an eye toward preserving the roadbed for future commuter use.Regarding the first issue, we wonder if the general public knows how many people plan their vacation trips around visiting short (and long) operating railroads of historic interest – steam, diesel and electric. There is a mystique about rail travel that, like any mystique, is hard to explain. But there it is. Many children, for one reason or another, have never ridden on a train, and, unless they have come to town by Amtrak, this might be their very first rail experience. Either way, they can’t wait to get on the speeders that the local chapter of the National Railway Historical Society has run from time to time. At the other end of the age spectrum, yes, there is nostalgia, a worthy human emotion, we think. And there is another kind of mystique to being in places and doing things the way they were many years ago, even before we were born. These things gratify people’s desire for a break from present everyday life.The second concern is technical. A lot of misinformation has been disseminated about the condition of the existing rails and railbed, how they have been used in the past and what the proposed future use of them would be. The track was rebuilt by the Rio Grande for heavy coal trains and was still good enough for 40 mph runs by the Regio Sprinter passenger rail vehicle a few years ago. As Hal Sundin said in a recent column, the tracks are not suitable for high-speed commuter rail; what he didn’t say (or didn’t know) is that no one – repeat, no one – is suggesting the existing tracks be used for commuter rail. What the NRHS chapter and other friends of our railway are asking is just this: leave the track as it is for short-term recreational use as a “placeholder” for commuter rail, and create a joint task force of rail and trail proponents to develop a plan allowing joint use of the corridor.We have heard very little sound objection to keeping the tracks as they are. Is there a faction that simply has no regard for the history of our area and the industries that led to its development and character? Even if they have no appreciation for these things, they must remember that tourism is the main industry of Glenwood Springs and the Roaring Fork Valley. Physical recreation amenities for locals are essential but can, and must, coexist with our unique historic amenities.If you want to be heard on this issue, we invite you to visit the Glenwood Railroad Museum in the Amtrak station, which is open from noon to 4 p.m. six days a week (closed Wednesday), and sign our citizens’ petition to the RFTA Board.Jan Girardot is the president of the local chapter of the National Railway Historical Society. He and Pat have lived in Glenwood Springs since 1974.


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