Train line: A quality of life question for the Springs

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So it’s the Friday after Thanksgiving and my sister, who has been in town with her husband and kids for the holiday, is flying home.

Her visit was way too short but what’s really aggravating at the moment is the prospect of driving everyone to Denver International.

The flight departs at 2 p.m., so we leave the Springs at 10:30 a.m. in order to arrive at the airport by around noon.

No problem, except, of course, that by the time I get back home, I will have spent at least three hours on the road.

I could have saved myself all of that windshield time, not to mention the gas, the wear and tear, the carbon footprint if only we made one important change in the way we live our lives here:

Establish train service between the Springs and Denver.

The arguments against rail are always about cost, and they’re certainly not easy to rise above when there’s hardly a transit project in the country that doesn’t require some form of public subsidy.

But didn’t we long ago accept the fact that together we’d share the costs of our highway system? And if so, why can’t we begin to think differently about trains?

I don’t think that fares are likely to cover the costs of operating a train between here and Denver, so a subsidy will be necessary.

But the taxpayer expense is offset by a huge improvement in the quality of life — including easing congestion that threatens to cripple commerce, better air and avoiding the hassles of driving from one end of the state to another.

This fall, the state Department of Transportation put out word it was establishing an advisory committee to help it run its new Division of Transit and Rail.

Craig Blewitt, the transit chief for the Springs, put his name in the hat.

CDOT’s new division, created by the legislature in 2009, will focus on passenger rail, buses and advanced guideway systems.

Mark Imhoff, the director of the division, said that although the committee won’t be making funding decisions, it will deliver recommendations aimed at closing gaps in transit services and exploring potential new rail projects, including high-speed rail.

A high-speed, intercity rail system in Colorado would cost at least $21 billion, according to a report issued this spring by the Rocky Mountain Rail Authority.

That’s an insane amount of money.

The segment connecting the Springs to downtown Denver and DIA would cost far less — about $3.3 billion — but that’s still more than we should consider spending at this particular moment.

The people behind the study suggest the price tag would be offset by economic benefits totaling $33 billion from jobs, income and wealth created by the project.

That figure sounds much too rosy to me. On the other hand, it doesn’t mean we have to ditch the idea of rail between here and Denver.

Instead of a high-speed line, we should revive a proposal to shift the coal trains that cut through town to a new track on the eastern plains. Doing so will free up the rails now used for freight to instead carry passengers.

The cost of doing so can be shared by the railroads and the coal companies.

We all know there’s only so much money available for infrastructure of any sort. Rather than wait for dollars that might never appear, this more modest approach offers a sensible interim solution.

At some point soon, we should know whether Blewitt made the cut.

I’m hoping he does, because then perhaps he can push this idea through, so long, of course, as he gets the green light from the City Council.

And if he’s ordered not to, well, it won’t be the first time a council action drives the Springs right off its rails.

Allen Greenberg is the editor of the Colorado Springs Business Journal. He can be reached at 719-329-5206 or allen.greenberg@csbj.com

One Response to Train line: A quality of life question for the Springs

  1. Studies have shown that the costs of constructing high-speed rail lines between or in cities wildly exceed any benefit provided since the percentage of people who use the service is very small. Therefore, while advocating high-speed rail is in in vogue for politicians, high-speed rail is really little more than more pork barrel spending. The idea that a substantial number of people will abandon their cars if a rail line is available to Denver seems to me to be a pipe dream. If this suspicion isn’t correct why isn’t every FREX bus packed full each and every time it heads north to the big City? The answer is obvious: People prefer to drive.

    Karl Berg
    December 3, 2010 at 4:02 pm