Southwest Chief Commission gets underway

by James Souby

The Southwest Chief & Front Range Passenger Rail Commission is underway. The thirteen member Commission, created by the 2017 General Assembly, has a twofold mission: sustain and expand Amtrak SW Chief service in southeastern Colorado, and, facilitate the development of front range passenger rail. At its first meeting, the Commission created two committees to advance the mission. A third committee will create a charter for the Commission which will set out the known requirements that must be met to achieve the legislature’s directives. The legislation requires the Commission to draft and submit proposed legislation to advance front range rail to the General Assembly by December 1st. Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace was elected Chair, and Denver Regional Council of Governments Long Range Transportation Planning Chief Jacob Riger was elected Vice Chair. ColoRail helped the Legislative sponsors, Senators Larry Crowder (R – Alamosa) and Leroy Garcia (D – Pueblo) and Representative Daneya Esgar (D – Pueblo) in drafting and supporting the legislation.

The Commission met for the second time Friday, September 8th. Both Committees reported. The Southwest Chief effort is currently focused on obtaining a TIGER grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT). USDOT announced the $500 million competitive grant program earlier in the week. Colorado, Kansas and New Mexico are each expected to pledge $1 million in matching funds while Amtrak has pledged $3 million. BNSF Railway was expected to announce its matching amount on Monday, September 11th. The primary applicant for the funds will likely be Colfax County/Raton New Mexico or Trinidad, Colorado. Communities along the line are also expected to provide matching funds. ColoRail has provided matching funds for the past two grants and the Board will take the matter up at its next meeting.

The Front Range Passenger Rail Committee met by conference call September 5th. The Committee identified key questions that must be resolved in order to define a successful passenger rail system. For example, what kind of governance structure would be most suitable to develop and operate the system, and what potential rights-of-way exist for the future service? The Committee also began the process of defining next steps which may become the basis for the legislative proposal. ColoRail provided notes from our scoping meeting last August to help the Committee get its arms around the complex project.

The thirteen member commission includes:

Sal Pace, Pueblo (D), Pueblo County Commissioner; public rail transportation advocate

Sara Rae Thompson Cassidy, Edgewater rep. Class I freight railroad rep: Union Pacific Railroad.

James M Souby, Denver rep. public rail transportation advocate, ColoRail

Peter J Rickershauser, Denver rep. Class I freight railroad rep: BNSF Railway

Richard G Klein, La Junta (D) rep. resident of Huerfano, Las Animas, Otero, Prowers or Pueblo counties, City Manager, La Junta

Jill Gaebler, Colorado Springs,
President Pro Tem, rep. Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments

Jacob Riger, Long Range Transportation Planning rep. Denver Regional Council of Governments,

Phil Rico, Mayor, Trinidad rep. South Central Council of Governments

Terry Hart, Pueblo, Chair, County Commission rep. Pueblo Area Council of Governments

Bill Van Meter, Asst. GM for Planning rep. Regional Transportation District

Becky Karasko, Fort Collins, Regional Transportation Planning Director Rep, North Front Range MPO

Mark Imhoff, Denver, Director, Division of Transit and Rail rep. Dept. of Transportation, ex-officio, non voting

Ray Lang, Sr. Dir., Govt. Affairs rep. Amtrak, ex officio, non voting