Study: passenger rail service expensive
CHEYENNE, Wyo. ” A new state report says it would cost more than $1 million per mile to upgrade existing rail lines between Casper and Fort Collins, Colo., to support passenger rail service.
The report looks at the feasibility of a segment of a proposed commuter rail line that ultimately could serve the Front Range, carrying passengers back and forth from Casper, across Colorado and into New Mexico.
Bob Briggs of the Colorado-based nonprofit group Front Range Commuter Rail is the chief promoter of the project. He says he’s encouraged that the projected costs are lower than he initially estimated.
“I don’t see anything in there that we can’t overcome,” Briggs said.
The report estimates it will cost between $1 million and $1.5 million per mile to upgrade the 265 miles of rail between Casper and Fort Collins. The line is owned by BNSF Railway Co.
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The study was prepared by TranSystems. David Simpson, a project manager for the company, said the cost of all surface transportation has increased in recent years. He noted that building a highway can cost millions of dollars per mile.
The state’s Joint Transportation, Highways and Military Affairs Interim Committee was briefed on the report Thursday. State Sen. Michael Von Flatern, R-Gillette, chairman of the committee, said the initial cost estimates pose a challenge.
“When you’re talking 265 miles, it does seem cost prohibitive at this point,” Von Flatern said.
The cost to the state could run even higher if the project fails to qualify for federal matching funds. Current federal rules require trains to be able to achieve speeds of 90 mph in order for a line to qualify for funds. The report found that even with upgrades, existing rail line in Wyoming may not allow trains to achieve that speed.
However, Simpson said that transportation funding bills pending in Congress wouldn’t impose the 90 mph requirement.
“Whether or not the minimum 90 mph speed is required to gain access to federal money I think is an open question,” Simpson said.
The topography and the resulting curvy track is the chief obstacle to such high speeds in Wyoming, Simpson said. He said a significant portion of the route would have to be built from scratch to accommodate high speed trains.
The report is the first phase of a larger $400,000 study on the feasibility of the proposed rail line through Wyoming. Simpson said additional information about ridership, train types and other details have been delayed until Colorado completes work on its version of the report, likely in coming months.
Dan Kline, spokesman for the Wyoming Department of Transportation, said that high gas prices are forcing consideration of alternatives to automobile travel. He said the proposed commuter rail line is a relatively new concept for Wyoming.
“This is all kind of new ground for us,” Kline said.