News & Reviews News Wire Colorado seeks information on equipment for Denver-Craig rail passenger route

Colorado seeks information on equipment for Denver-Craig rail passenger route

By Trains Staff | December 4, 2023

State begins exploring rolling-stock options for mountain rail service

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Diesel multiple-unit trainset with airplane overhead
A TEXRail Stadler FLIRT DMU heads away from DFW Airport in 2019. This might be one equipment option for Colorado’s service between Denver and Craig. on Bob Johnston

DENVER — The Colorado Department of Transportation isn’t prepared to start shopping for passenger trains just yet, but it’s at least ready to look at brochures.

The state DOT on Friday issued a “request for information” for rolling stock for possible passenger service between Denver and Craig, Colo., and has asked manufacturers and vendors to respond within 45 days. The agency says the request is not a solicitation for bids and is not meant to result in an order, but is an effort to understand what equipment might be available for mountain rail service.

“This is an important first step to understanding what technology is on the market that could meet the needs of mountain conditions,” CDOT Executive Director Shoshana Lew said in a press release. “We’re interested in factors like cost, safety technology, reliability and the use of energy-efficiency options and clean power.”

CDOT is seeing trains that can handle steep grades, high altitudes, and potential low temperatures, with a capacity of 200 and “comfortable and upscale furnishings, including tables at facing seats and not more than 2×2 seat configuration.” There should also be options for a lounge or café car and wi-fi service.

The state announced in October that it would fund a $5 million study of possible Denver-Steamboat Springs-Craig service, a route last served by the Denver & Rio Grande Western’s Yampa Valley in 1968 [see “Colorado to fund study …,” Trains News Wire, Oct. 24, 2023].

18 thoughts on “Colorado seeks information on equipment for Denver-Craig rail passenger route

  1. Mr. Rice, I would wager that when the plants and associated mines shut down, that area will be decimated. Tourist businesses do employ a bunch of folks, but at much lower pay, and typically seasonal. I’m getting really negative these days, so my thinking is kind of biased, but I don’t see this ending well…

  2. There’s a better chance of highway right-of-way rail on I-25 than on I-70 through the mountains. It’s a tight squeeze on much of I-70. I have to agree that there’s likely not enough demand for Craig and Steamboat Springs as a destination for passenger rail. Glenwood Springs and Grand Junction might produce a lot more traffic. Maybe Colorado should offer to buy the old DRGW from the UP and sell trackage rights to the UP and BNSF.

  3. I’m assuming part of the reason they’re looking so hard at Craig Branch passenger rail is because UP’s lease on the Moffat Tunnel is up for renewal. This is the perfect chance to get commitments for passenger rail in that direction, possibly in exchange for keeping the lease fees from getting too high. I do agree that Front Range passenger rail would serve more people, but it’ll also require a lot more money and coordination.

    As for equipment…I’d be a bit surprised if they really used commuter-style DMU’s as the photo suggests. Then again, California is looking at buying hydrogen FLIRT’s for service of similar length.

  4. Sounds like one more radial line leaving Chicago for an Iowa or Indiana border town. Just get the feeling you got a once daily highly subsidize service with minor partonage.
    Put your money on the front range as Paul noted. At least you got a population base and multiple colleges up and down the line to support an active corridor service. Yes, to Charles point that it will take a lot more money to develop the capacity and do more grade separations but you got a corridor more on par with say Seattle/Portland (which handles a lot of freight and multiple Cascade trips). Plus side you go north say Cheyenne or south to Albuquerque NM/Southwest Chief to give connectivity outside of Colorado in the future.

  5. All interesting questions and thoughts above, but in reading this article, it seems to me that CDOT has gotten “the cart before the horse” …

    Shouldn’t they complete the $5M Feasibility ‘Study’ first before figuring out what kind of passenger rail ‘technology’ they want to use on a rail corridor that may or may not support a passenger train?

  6. How about starting out more modestly with a new train operating only up the Craig Branch connecting with Amtrak’s “California Zephyr” at Bond? With through cars to Denver? Yes, some logistic/operating issues etc., ripe for some creative thinking. Add a dedicated train later as traffic/demand warrant.

  7. Howabout a Front Range train instead? Which towns would generate more passengers, Craig or Colorado Springs? Steamboat or Pueblo?

  8. A wag. 200 passengers = 4 / 50 – 60 coaches + 1 lounge car. Probably would need 2 train sets for each planned round trip.
    10 coaches ( 2 spare ) , 3 lounge cars, 5 locos ( 1 spare ).

    Question is how many round trips does CO DOT want?

  9. The NRE engines for the Y&WP seem to do pretty well at all of the requirements stated. While they are narrow gauge, I have seen those engines pull 15+ full passenger cars from sea level to just under 3000ft year round. I am not saying that is the answer, just an observation that there are some very cost effective solutions out there that don’t require billions of consultant studies to figure out.

  10. TRAINS MAGAZINE around 1972 wrote that the problems with rail travel weren’t caused by equipment, neither would better equipment be a solution.

    I could be wrong but I don’t see this as a viable route.

    1. Steamboat Springs could be a good terminal for skiers but outside of rail fans (it would be a beautiful ride) it’s really hard to see any business to Craig. Amtrak runs through Moffat Tunnel so I don’t understand the need for special high altitude equipment.

    2. I don’t see this succeeding. Steamboat Springs, maybe during the winter months. Craig, I would bet that a great number of Colorado residents have no idea where Craig is. I just don’t see the ridership to support this. If we are talking about workers commuting from Craig to Steamboat to work the ski industry buses would be the way to go.

    3. Agreed completely. I’m certainly no expert, but I have been to Craig. Again, I’m no expert, but it’s not a tourist town at all, I can’t see any reason at all for a train to serve it. Am I the only one that kind of feels it’s a matter of “The gov has made billions available, let’s spend it!”

    4. Problem with the Front Range is that until coal is completely outlawed there isn’t enough rail for passengers.

    5. -The Colorado PUC has demanded that the Craig Power Station begin to cease its coal fired operation starting in 2025 with it completing by 2028. The nearby coal fired Hayden power station is in the same demand.

      -Craig was the terminus of the never-finished Denver and Salt Lake Railway. While the tracks still exist to Craig, the effort to finish this line was abandoned, and the tracks to Craig became a spur route.

      -Uinta oil interests originally were looking to connect to a eastbound railroad via Craig, but BLM leadership opposed it

      – Craig is considered the Elk hunting capital of the world

      – Craig is a leading supplier of labor during the peak ski season, with a shuttle and scheduled bus service to Steamboat l and II.

      So I suspect the State of Colorado is looking to find a way to prop up the economy of Moffatt County after the 2 power plants shut down for good.

    6. Ben — Why do you think a highway r/w can accommodate a railroad? I don’t live in Colorado (though I frequently visit). Where I do live, which is Wisconsin, the highway department is prohibited from owning more r/w than it needs for the road (plus side slopes, drainage courses, etc.). The rest has been returned to abutting owners.

      I-4 in Florida was a total reconstruct. I-15 in California is in the middle of nowhere, which is why Brightline West will be in the middle of nowhere.

      I’m not aware of any plans to rebuild I-25 in Colorado. If I-25 were rebuilt, I’m not inclined to believe the various communities would want to cede the width a railroad would take up.

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