Commission on Front Range Passenger Rail and Southwest Chief Takes Shape

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The state commission tasked with looking into passenger rail on Colorado's Front Range is getting to work.  The committee is an expansion of the previous Southwest Chief commission, and still tasked with working to preserve and improve the long-distance Amtrak route that travels through southern Colorado, as well as connect it to Pueblo.

Commission member Jim Souby heads the Colorado Rail Passenger Association, a Denver-based advocacy group.  He says pairing the two initiatives makes sense.

"Obviously, that Front Range rail, it would be fantastic if it could connect with the Southwest Chief in Pueblo," he says.  "So it kind of fits together."

Souby says the commission expects to resubmit an application for federal funding, geared toward the Southwest Chief. 

"The Chief's running much faster now," Souby says.  "The work that's been done has had a tremendously positive effect on the train, but there's still some old track dating back to the '50s and '60s that needs to be replaced and some grade crossings that need to be improved."

Souby says that although the Trump administration has zeroed out funding for Amtrak's long-distance passenger rail in its budget proposal, he remains cautiously optimistic that funding will continue.  He points to the House budget proposal that left Amtrak funding in place, and says the Senate may even look to increase those funds.

"We feel that Congress is doing the right thing," he says.  "It's understandable.  These long-distance trains serve a whole host of rural communities, and many of those communities are served by Republican congressional [representatives]."

As to the goal of Front Range passenger rail, the commission will present draft legislation to state lawmakers by December 1st. To that end, Souby says the commission has set up subcommittees focusing on the Southwest Chief and Front Range passenger rail, and some members will serve on both subcommittees.

Souby says he doesn't expect to have robust legislation with all questions answered, but rather, he says they're looking at models in other states, as well as requirements for federal funding.

"We don't want to reinvent the wheel," he says.

Unlike the original Southwest Chief commission, this new state committee does not sunset, which Souby says indicates lawmakers recognize that it's a long-term project.