Is Passenger Rail Crisscrossing Colorado Pie In The Sky? Not To This Man

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Photo: California Zephyr train in Western Colorado in the 1960s (Wikipedia)
A California Zephyr train in Western Colorado in the 1960s.

Bob Briggs hopes the four new train lines opening this year in metro Denver -- serving the airport, Wheat Ridge, Aurora and more -- are just the beginning for rail service in Colorado.

Briggs founded CO Rail Now more than a decade ago, with a vision of passenger trains running from the New Mexico border to the Wyoming border, and out to the Western Slope.

"One hundred and sixteen years ago, every county in our great state had rail service," he said. "Today, that doesn't exist."

He has tried to work with the state legislature, and was a lawmaker himself, and now he is transitioning the group to a private enterprise, which he says gives him more flexibility to negotiate with rail companies.

The first step in Briggs' plan is to build tracks on the Eastern Plains to carry freight traffic that currently goes through Denver. He hopes to secure a meeting with BNSF Railway officials this year to get their agreement to run freight traffic on those tracks. Briggs says that would open up tracks in the metro area to carry passengers.

Then, Briggs would expand service to the mountains and the Western Slope. He spoke with Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner about his group CO Rail Now.

Read interview highlights below:

On access to the mountains:

"One of the things I heard consistently is we still have to have access to the mountains because that's why we moved here. ... The bottleneck that you have east-west in the mountains is Moffat Tunnel. Moffat Tunnel today can only move 22 trains a day. And it needs to be remodeled. It was engineered in 1903 and hasn't been changed."Photo: Moffat Tunnel

On what the need is:

"Rail is the only transportation system that gives you the opportunity, as your population grows, to expand service by using a different technology, using longer trains, using many things so you can move more people."

"In July of this year, a new Panama Canal opens. That will put more containers coming into Texas. That will increase demand on north-south rail, and and they have no capacity now. And they will have if you build [new lines on the Plains]. And so that's why [railroad companies] will be in favor of it, and that's why it works."

On whether the plan is realistic:

"When the decision was made to build DIA over and above Stapleton. ...The question was, 'Was it pie in the sky?' If you look back 15 years later, you say 'No, that wasn't a pie in the sky. It worked.' The same will be true here."

On why he keeps pushing the proposal:

"Colorado is on its way to 18 million people by 2100. If somebody doesn't lead the charge to put a rail infrastructure back in place, we'll be in a world of hurt. ... I'm not doing it for me. I'm doing it because it's best for Colorado."