Colorado Pacific Railroad plans to persist in Tennessee Pass deal
Firm has to successfully fight current agreement between Union Pacific and the Colorado, Midland & Pacific Railway Company
Stefan Soloviev is skeptical about a deal announced last week to return rail service to the Tennessee Pass line between Canon City and Eagle.
Soloviev, an owner of the Colorado Pacific Railroad, said this week the firm will file an objection Friday to the deal with the U.S. Surface Transportation Board. That board governs use of rail lines in the country.
Colorado Pacific hauls grain and other agricultural products on the line that stretches from, roughly, Pueblo through Garden City, Kansas. Much of that grain comes from Soloviev’s extensive land holdings in eastern Colorado and western Kansas under the company Crossroads Agriculture. But, Soloviev said, the railroad also hauls grain from neighboring farms.
A complicated story
Colorado Pacific in 2020 offered Union Pacific Railroad, the line’s current owner, $10 million for the line. That offer was rejected, by both Union Pacific and the Surface Transportation Board.
In a pair of rulings issued in March of 2020, the board rejected Colorado Pacific’s request to force a sale. The same day, the board granted Union Pacific a protective order to shield from public view what the company claimed was sensitive proprietary information.
The Colorado Pacific decision was issued “without prejudice,” meaning the firm could re-submit its application.
Soloviev said he intends to do just that, but first his firm has to successfully fight the current agreement between Union Pacific and the Colorado, Midland & Pacific Railway Company.
What kind of use might be on the line remains an open question.
In a Dec. 30 interview about the current deal, Colorado, Midland community liaison spokesperson Sara Thompson Cassidy said that firm would be open to talking with community leaders across the length of the line about those uses, ranging from freight to passenger service.
The prospect of passenger service has piqued the interest of Eagle County officials, who believe commuter rail service could be a boon to Eagle and Lake counties.
Soloviev said he believes the line, if it’s ever activated, will mostly haul oil shale from Utah to the Front Range.
Soloviev added Colorado Pacific will focus on freight and hauling grain to western markets via Tennessee Pass. He left open the prospect of launching daily passenger service, on what would be mostly a tourist train.
Hauling grain over the Continental Divide will be safer than oil shale — not oil, but rock containing oil — he added. There won’t be that many trains running, since one “unit” — 110 jumbo freight cars — will haul roughly 500,000 bushels of grain. It takes some time to put that much grain on a train, Soloviev said.
We might see trails
In addition to rail service, Soloviev said “I’d max out trails for people in that area.”
But, Soloviev added, he’s working mostly for his own company and his neighbors on the plains. Part of that work involves fighting what he called Union Pacific’s “monopoly” on freight service, and the higher costs that imposes on grain producers.
There are only two lines that run over Colorado’s mountains, Soloviev said, the Moffat Tunnel line out of Denver and the Tennessee Pass line through Pueblo. Union Pacific controls both lines and only runs one.
“There’s no more egregious monopoly right now” than the one railroads impose on farmers, he added.
Whoever controls the rails over Tennessee Pass, it’s going to be expensive to get that stretch ready for train traffic.
Soloviev said he believes rehabilitating the Tennessee Pass could cost “at least” $50 million.
Soloviev said he believes there’s enough revenue potential for any operator to make that kind of commitment. Asked if Colorado Pacific had the financial ability to do the work, Soloviev said it does.
Whatever happens on the line, it’s going to be some time before any trains from any firm run over Tennessee Pass.
The first step is an operator gaining approval from the Surface Transportation Board.
Soloviev said he’s going to continue his efforts to secure the line for Colorado Pacific.
“I’m not afraid of Union Pacific,” he said.
• Union Pacific Railroad
• Colorado Pacific Railroad
• Colorado, Midland & Pacific Railway Company
• U.S. Surface Transportation Board
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