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Light rail, bigger and better

I hear mumblings about light rail from Denver to Vail in the political campaigns. It’s a wonderful idea and I am all for it, but let’s do a reality check.

First, if the state and the nation are going to invest in high-speed light rail it will be in heavily populated areas like the Colorado Front Range or the strip city developing between Albuquerque and Cheyenne or even up to Calgary. Simple economics dictates this.

I had the opportunity to talk with two representatives from Swiss Rail and they both said the same thing. The high speed passenger railroad needs to run between two large population centers to be profitable. So how about changing our thinking and our promotion of the rail idea to a larger scale.



What about a transcontinental high speed passenger rail system that goes coast to coast? High-speed rail between Denver and Salt Lake City might be able to compete with air travel in terms of time consumed and it would be substantially cheaper. If so, the investment would look a lot better. Vail could be one stop, a busy one in the winter and quieter in the off seasons, but the system would not rely on Vail alone.

Another big stumbling block is the Union Pacific. They have a profitable freight business. Why mess it up with serious passenger service? To this I say, why not both? The Swiss rail companies move freight in off hours and still have excellent passenger service.



A local passenger rail system from Leadville or Minturn to Dotsero is a different matter. UP is not using their tracks to any great degree, so perhaps local traffic could put the existing setup back in business, but I’m sure it would have to be subsidized in the beginning, and UP will be a tough nut to crack.

In any case, a transcontinental railroad was build over 135 years ago, so what’s the problem today? High -speed trains are now available and the potential traffic is there waiting. It can be a good investment financially, it’s an answer to the problem of expensive oil, and it’s very good way to address climate change and many other environmental issues.


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