News & Reviews News Wire Colorado to fund study of Denver-Craig passenger service

Colorado to fund study of Denver-Craig passenger service

By Trains Staff | October 24, 2023

$5 million study will develop service plan for route that last saw passenger trains in 1968

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Black and white photo of passenger trains meeting in snow-covered mountain area
Rio Grande’s Yampa Valley trains meet on Dec. 31, 1966, at Radium, Colo. The state of Colorado is funding a study to consider reviving passenger service on the Denver-Craig route last served by the Yampa Valley in 1968. Steve Patterson

DENVER — The Colorado Department of Transportation has announced a $5 million study to consider reviving Denver-Steamboat Springs-Craig passenger rail service, as well as coordinated and connecting bus service.

Passenger service on the 191-mile Denver-Craig route ended in April 1968 with discontinuance of the Denver & Rio Grande Western’s Yampa Valley Mail, which became the Yampa Valley after the loss of its U.S. Post Office contract in 1963.

CDOT believes prospects for such service have increased thanks to developments including a dramatic decrease in coal-train traffic on the Union Pacific rail lines involved, making UP officials more open to the possibility of more passenger service. Parts of the route already sees Amtrak’s California Zephyr and the seasonal Winter Park Express ski train.

“We have an unusual confluence of favorable conditions in place right now,” CDOT Executive Director Shoshana Lew said in a press release. “This is a rare opportunity for us to get significant funding for a project that we know is very doable.”

Funding will help create a “service development plan,” to provide data and offer service options for the route. Subsequent steps would involve input from communities, counties, and recreation-industry locations along the site, as well as Union Pacific.

“A just transition for communities moving away from coal production, cutting traffic and reducing pollution are some of my administration’s top priorities,” said Colorado Gov. Jared Polis. “ Expanding passenger rail service to the Yampa Valley can help on all these objectives.”

23 thoughts on “Colorado to fund study of Denver-Craig passenger service

  1. As long as Eagle County is not involved it has a chance. Maybe a whole bunch of Utah environmentalist should sue and force the CDOT to consider all the “downstream” actions of this idea, just like the Eagle county environmentalist are trying to do to the Uinta Basin Railway. Sucks when your own actions come home to rest where they started…

  2. “Parts of the route already sees Amtrak’s California Zephyr and the seasonal Winter Park Express ski train.”

    Just to add to this, the portions mentioned also host the Rocky Mountaineer Denver to Moab service.

  3. The ski train from Denver to Winter Park currently takes 2.5 hours to go 50 miles. Going further to Steamboat will take 6-7 hours. I don’t see how this can work?
    Can small, light train units go much faster on the mountainous stretch that is shared with freight?

  4. Classy D&RGW train. If you’re going to have one passenger-carrying car, make it a chair-dome-obs car.

    The dome car was built by Budd in 1948 for C&O’s Chessie streamliner which was to be a daylight express from Washington/Newport News to Cincinnati. The train never ran and C&O quickly sold all but four of the cars. D&RGW added a narrow vestibule on the obs end and ran the dome-obs cars midtrain on the Royal Gorge.

  5. Brightline, Brightline, Brightline I’m so tired of some equating this house of cards as the future of passenger rail. Like they’re going to pull a rabbit out of a hat & suddenly do what even the RR’s couldn’t do at their peak time in the passenger market. The NEC can’t even make a profit with the population density that exist there. Brightline must be running huge losses with this venture which is only sustainable due to the huge profits their parent co is making on the real estate but they will not continue to eat these losses at some point they are going to have to turn to the taxpayer to at the very least share in the costs/losses. Not that there is anything wrong with that Hwys & aviation achieved their market status as a result of the Govts enormous seed/taxpayer money to establish their dominance in travel & the trucking industry & their continued reaping of taxpayer $$ with continued “investment” (subsidy) which maintains the dominance of both. In this case Brightline provided the seed money but in the end will still follow the same path as Amtrak, transit, aviation & hwys dependent on public subsidies direct or indirect but they should ALL be viewed as an “INVESTMENT”.

  6. Even $500,00 would be exorbitant. There are no mysteries involved here, no really new discoveries to be made. My opinion is that Denver to Glenwood Springs would be a year-round moneymaker, appealing to anyone who has participated in an I-70 traffic jam in the mountains. Service all the way to Craig might make money, might not. The demand for passenger service on the former D&RGW is there if anyone wants to meet it and there should be some easy ways to determine that demand.

  7. The Denver – Craig passenger train project could become another addition to Brightline’s portfolio. Brightline may work with Union Pacific for the upgrade of infrastructure to accommodate both freight and passenger operations as was done with the Florida East Coast Railway.

  8. Since Union Pacific is somewhat involved with this idea and it is their tracks, why not not have them fund some of the cost of this study if not all of it. Perhaps Union Pacific can form a partnershipwith a private investor or investors and company sort of like the Way Brightline and FEC did in Florida and have a private company develop and run passenger trains on the UP tracks. For the state of Colorado to use public funds on a study that will go nowhere and since it is a private railroad company , in this case UP it should be them , not the state spending money to help a private company develop new forms of revenue and rail expansion.
    Joseph C. Markfelder

    1. UP will not partner with a private entity for passenger service. They want the carrier to establish an astronomical amount of liability insurance. Amtrak is a deep pocket, but most private carriers are not.

      This is why when Brightline bought out the assets of eXpress West, they immediately dumped the concept of using UP tracks from LV to LA and decided to build their own.

      eXpress West tried for 3 years to find an insurance company that would underwrite them for liability to meet UP’s demands and no one at first would do it. Later they found just one, but the premium was so high and totally uneconomic for a rail start up.

      If the State of Colorado and CDOT back the service, similar to what Metra is in Illinois, then I could see UP allowing it. Again, seeing that the government is a deep pocket.

  9. I used to have to travel to Fort Collins for work often, flying in to Denver. I’ve always wondered why the state didn’t have passenger trains running from Colorado Springs-Denver-Fort Collins.

    Especially with light rail connecting to the airport, this would seem to serve more people along I-25 then reviving the line to Steamboat and Craig.

    1. Actually, for some time Colorado has unsuccessfully tried to develop a plan to run rail service between Pueblo and Denver. Actually, it would seem to make sense to run it all the way up to Cheyenne, although that might be too costly, especially for passenger count. Your idea might open the possibility of much more frequent service on the shorter route .

    2. Family has brought me often to Colorado four times in the past year and a half, so I’m getting to know the lay of the land.

      Colorado Springs is the second biggest city by population, in the state’s most populous county (El Paso County if memory serves). Fort Collins is somewhere on that list, not sure where, as are Thornton and Brighton, two of Denver’s northern suburbs. I’m not sure which cities are on UPRR and which on BNSF. Point is though, both these are single-track railroads with lots of coal (for now anyway).

      Michael as an airline traveler into DEN, you must appreciate that connectivity requires frequency. If you fly into DEN, take the light rail to Union Station, and hope to connect to a train that might run twice daily or at best three times daily to Fort Collins, good luck. To say nothing of going well out of your way to catch the train. From the airport in a rental car to Fort Collins, in contrast, is a straight shot. Not everyone drives (many people are elderly or disabled) but for those who can drive, there’s a reason for airport rental cars.

    3. It seems to me that over the years, I have heard/read somewhere that a high(er)speed passenger rail service was being proposed all the way from El Paso, TX to Cheyenne, WY, paralleling mostly I-25 and 45 miles of I-10 into El Paso, via BNSF. Sounds like a job for Amtrak, or maybe even Brightline???

    1. Whatever, Dr. Ustun. Any comment on the study’s price tag, and what you would expect from the study in the way of detail?

    2. If only the cost of the study in question had not reached 5 million dollars!

      Dr. Güntürk Üstün

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