Deal to revive Tennessee Pass line faces new objections
Rail rival persists, but line neighbors are also weighing in
A Dec. 31 deal between Union Pacific Railroad and the Colorado, Midland & Pacific Railway Company is already generating opposition.
The biggest player among the opponents is the Colorado Pacific Railway, a firm that hauls grain in eastern Colorado and western Kansas. The U.S. Surface Transportation Board in March of 2020 rejected Colorado Pacific’s offer to purchase the line. At the time, the bid was rejected as incomplete.
Colorado Pacific owner Stefan Soloviev, who also has large agricultural holdings in eastern Colorado under the company name KCVN, said in a phone conversation he wants the line to haul grain more easily from eastern Colorado to western markets.
That firm filed a Jan. 8 objection with the Surface Transportation Board. While the original filing was for a “routine” approval, Colorado Pacific’s objection disputes the “non-controversial transaction.”
Soloviev said he’s seeking “fair competition” for his firm and other eastern Colorado farmers to use a hauler other than Union Pacific.
“We want competition for myself and other agricultural producers to have a fair playing field,” Soloviev said. That effort would be helped if Colorado Pacific could go as far as possible, he added.
Soloviev said in a previous interview that Colorado Pacific’s intent is to haul grain and other agricultural products on the line. The line could also perhaps host limited passenger rail.
More passengers than freight?
Colorado Midland’s Dec. 31 announcement stated that the firm will work with local communities to determine uses for the line including passenger, commuter and freight traffic along the corridor.
In a Jan. 11 email, Thompson Cassidy wrote that Colorado Midland “is confident that it will be successful in the design, build, finance (operation) and maintenance of the proposed commuter railroad on the Tennessee Pass line.”
While the regional companies face off at the federal level, others are raising objections.
As of Jan. 8, the Surface Transportation Board had received two objection letters to any deal on the line.
Michael Millsap, a resident of Howard, a small community in the Arkansas River valley east of Salida, wrote to the board that life along the line has changed considerably since trains stopped running on the line in the mid-1990s.
“Should the trains run again … many of us could expect our property values to drop significantly.”
Millsap added that returning trains to the line “would be a substantial physical and legal barrier to crossing over into and accessing public lands, including accessing the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area… Our newly designated Browns Canyon National Monument woud cease to be the attraction that it was intended to be.”
Is there a need?
The Arkansas River KOA campground and Loma Linda Motel occupy the riverside at Cotopaxi, another small community east of Salida. In a letter to the board, company president James Burnham wrote that “no one relies on these tracks. The public has not relied on the railroad here for decades. The railroad would bring little to the table for those of us who live in its path, aside from noise, and pollution.”
Burnham’s letter notes that the Arkansas in that area is a prime fishery, as well as a popular stream for rafting.
“All this is jeopardized by railroad operations,” he wrote.
In addition to those objections, putting trains on the line will affect future land planning in parts of Eagle County.
Town of Eagle Community Development Director Chad Phillips said running trains on the line will affect any future development on the north side of U.S. Highway 6 through town.
Phillips said running trains would affect prospects of extending Broadway Street across Highway 6 to the north. Phillips added he’s fielded calls over the past several months about the prospect of developing multi-family housing north of the tracks. That would require a second access point, probably coming from somewhere near the Eagle County Fairgrounds. That would require building a new bridge over the Eagle River.
While more objections are likely, Soloviev said he’s committed to trying to acquire the line.
Whatever course the Surface Transportation Board takes with the application, Soloviev said “Things are going to take a while… I know it’ll take time.”
• The line runs about 160 miles, from just west of Canon City to just west of Eagle.
• Union Pacific has owned the Tennessee Pass line since the mid-1990s.
• Colorado, Midland & Pacific Railway Company Dec. 31 announced a lease deal for the line.
• Colorado Pacific Railroad in 2020 was rebuffed in an effort to purchase the line.
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