News & Reviews News Wire Colorado bill to protect mountain rail lines for passenger service takes first step

Colorado bill to protect mountain rail lines for passenger service takes first step

By David Lassen | April 11, 2024

Legislation also would allow sale of Moffat Tunnel for ‘less than market value’

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Yellow locomotive and passenger cars at tunnel.
A Union Pacific special stops at East Portal, Colo., while passengers inspect the Moffat Tunnel fan house and controls on May 18, 2021. Legislation to protect the rail route to Craig, Colo., for possible passenger service also includes a provision that could make it easier for the state to sell the tunnel. Steve Patterson

DENVER — A bill that includes provisions to protect rail lines for Colorado’s proposed Denver-Craig rail service, even if coal traffic drops below sustainable levels, has cleared its first step in the state Senate.

SB24-190, sponsored by Sen. Dylan Roberts (D-Frisco), also enhances the ability of the state to sell the Moffat Tunnel, which it has owned and leased since the 6.2-mile bore beneath the Continental Divide was completed in 1928. The bill passed the Senate Finance Committee by a 6-1 vote on Tuesday and now moves to the Appropriations Committee.

The bill would provide up to $10 million in financial incentives for companies to locate along rail lines in the state’s “coal transition communities,” those that had coal mines, coal-fired power plants, or manufacturing or transportation related to such facilities as of 2017. It would also provide tax credit for railroad operators to maintain lines in such communities even if traffic drops below levels that might place it at risk of abandonment, if it is covered by an agreement for passenger rail access.

Roberts, who represents northwest Colorado, said in a press release that “prioritizing economic opportunity and resources for transitioning communities is a top priority. Further, representing all the communities that would be served by mountain passenger rail from Craig to Winter Park, I’m excited to do whatever I can to make that happen – and this bill does both.”

Colorado is conducting a $5 million study of possible Denver-Steamboat Springs-Craig passenger service [see “Colorado to fund study …,” Trains News Wire, Oct. 24, 2023] and issued a request for information late last year on possible trainsets [see “Colorado seeks information on equipment …,” News Wire, Dec. 4, 2023].

Another section of Roberts’ bill caps the length of any lease for use of the Moffat Tunnel at 99 years, but allows the sale of all property owned by the state’s Moffat Tunnel Improvement District for “fair market value and for less than fair market value, if the department finds such a conveyance and transfer is in the public interest.” The tunnel provision is apparently tied to other aspects of the bill because, according to the bill language, “the Moffat tunnel is an essential economic link for freight and passenger rail service, connecting the east and west parts of the sate, and the access it provides is essential to achieving a just transition in many coal transition communities.”

Union Pacific’s current lease for use of the tunnel, under which it pays $12,000 per year, expires in January 2025. The lease gained political significance last year when opponents of the Uinta Basin Railway project sought to make the potential oil traffic from the Uinta Basin project an issue in lease renewal [see “Moffat Tunnel lease could become part of fight …,” News Wire, July 30, 2023]; legal setbacks for the Uinta Basin project may have cooled that issue. However, the state did change its lease negotiating team and was reportedly seeking the right to operate more passenger service through the tunnel [see “Colorado changes team for Moffat Tunnel lease negotations,” News Wire, Sept. 27, 2023].

4 thoughts on “Colorado bill to protect mountain rail lines for passenger service takes first step

  1. The State owns the tunnel and the city owns the parallel water tunnel, which originally was used to facilitate construction of the railroad tunnel by providing access.

  2. I thought the City of Denver, not the State of Colorado, owned the Moffat Tunnel (due to the city’s water-line/piping system as part of the tunnel and that the city originally financed construction of the tunnel).

    Is Senator Robert’s bill therefore referring to allowing the city to pursue options to “sell” the Moffat Tunnel?

  3. The lease goes back to the inherited cost back to the days of David Moffat and the Denver & Salt Lake “Moffat Route.” which UP acquired it from Rio Grande through its merger with the Southern Pacific, then owned by the Anschutz Corp, a Colorado corporation which had owned the Denver & Rio Grande Western before it merged the SP and took on the SP name. UP will probably end up buying the Moffat Tunnel although the $12,000 is for use only The UP provides all maintenance pertaining to the running of trains (including Amtrak) through the tunnel and participates in the cost of the air (smoke) evacuation system with the state. The City of Denver assumes all costs associated with the maintenance of its drinking water delivery system.

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