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Front Range rail plan updated Thursday in Denver

Route between Ft. Collins, Trinidad for $1 billion

Front Range passenger rail discussed...

DENVER - Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace was at the state capitol Thursday to update efforts to establish a passenger rail system along Colorado's Front Range.

Pace, a former state lawmaker, made a presentation Thursday morning to the Transportation Legislation Review Committee.

Pace is chairman of the Southwest Chief and Front Range Passenger Rail Commission, a group authorized by the Legislature earlier this year to study the passenger rail issue.

The present idea is to build a passenger rail line between Fort Collins and Trinidad, at an estimated cost of at least $1 billion.

"But even this past week, we heard that the community of Cheyenne (Wyoming) wants to start participating in some of the planning," Pace said.  "As time goes on, neighboring states might even participate with us."

The funding source, timetable and the actual design, operation and specific route for a passenger rail system have yet to be determined.

"I'd say we're still closer to the beginning of this process than the end," said Jacob Riger, the commission's vice-chairman.  "But we're all on the right path of asking questions and thinking through issues."

Riger said a passenger rail system would be different from Denver's light rail system.

"We want something traveling longer distances, comparable to highway speeds," he said.

AMTRAK's Southwest Chief rail line between Chicago and Los Angeles currently runs near Pueblo and across southern Colorado, and Pace said it could become an important part of a passenger rail system.

"We've invested $46 million since 2011 to repair tracks and save that route from being discontinued," he said.  "If we can connect the Chief directly to Pueblo and maybe even to Colorado Springs, that opens up a wealth of transportation possibilities -- especially in rural areas."

Rep. Daneya Esgar, D-Pueblo, is a member of the review committee.

"I'm impressed with the commission's work so far, she said.  "From the constituents I hear from, they think passenger rail is a great idea.  They might even travel more than they do now, if they don't have to worry about heavy traffic and crashes."

Esgar said a passenger rail system doesn't eliminate the need to widen Interstate 25 between Monument and Castle Rock.

"But I don't think that's the only solution," she said.  "We need to look at other means to get people off that (highway).  That's why I've always been impressed with the passenger rail idea."

The commission is scheduled to meet with the committee again on Dec. 1 for another progress update that could include more definite plans.

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