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Amtrak executives discuss the possible future for Front Range Rail

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Posted at 11:08 PM, Apr 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-13 16:09:44-04

COLORADO SPRINGS — Top executives with Amtrak provided an update on Monday of their plans to develop a Front Range Passenger Rail along the I-25 corridor.

"For a long time, I thought that we needed some sort of alternative to I-25 to connect the front range!" said Pueblo's Mayor Nicholas Gradisar.

The train would be able to take people from Pueblo all the way to Cheyenne, Wyoming with stops along the way. During the meeting, Amtrak President Stephen Gardner noted the I-25 corridor services roughly 85% of Colorado's population and most people in the area only have one means of transportation.

Gardner noted that Colorado is "creating the foundation" to move forward with the project, thanks to the supports of community leaders.

"Such systems have worked out really well for Salt Lake city… and Denver is the perfect match for that," said David Strong who lives in Pueblo.

However, the future of the project is still up in the air. Mayor Gradisar says "A lot of the work is going to be trying to find the funding". Amtrak executive Bill Flynn noted that President Biden's potential $2.2 trillion infrastructure plan could "accelerate" the process, but even without the plan, the partnership will continue trying to go forward.

As for funding the rest of the project, the meeting raised the idea of taxing those on the front range that the rail would service, but sparing any tax increase for other places in Colorado.

Former Democratic State Representative Sal Pace of Pueblo County highlighted his hopes that an incoming Front Range Rail will boost Colorado's economy, especially Pueblo which would potentially provide materials to the project. Gardner noted that the idea will help the economy rebound from the pandemic by providing new jobs in the industry.

"Even today 50% of the railroad rail comes out of Pueblo that's sold in North America, so if we're going to expand the railroads, that's perfect for Pueblo," said Mayor Gradisar.

Strong's only concern surround gentrification, noting that Pueblo is a "good place to live with not a lot of money". There is a chance that with this railroad, more people from Denver or Colorado Springs could move to Pueblo for the low cost of living with an easier commute.

As News 5 has previously reported, the president's infrastructure bill, the American Jobs Plan, calls for spending $80 billion to improve and expand passenger rail service throughout the country.

Amtrak announced its support for the legislation and released a multi-year plan to expand passenger rail service to 160 new communities. Their map includes the route connecting Pueblo to Cheyenne, Wyoming.

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A map detailing proposed expansions and upgrades to Amtrak's passenger rail lines.

Jill Gaebler of the Southwest Chief and Front Range Passenger Rail Commission previously told News 5 the commission has completed an alignment study for the new route. State lawmakers are expected to introduce a bill to create a passenger rail special district among the various communities that would be served by the new line.

Senator Leroy Garcia of Pueblo is the co-sponsor of SB21-238 calling for the creation of a Front Range Passenger Rail District for "planning , designing, developing, financing, constructing, operating, and maintaining a passenger rail system."

The concept is to determine interconnectivity with existing rail lines into one continuous system serving the entire region. This regional transportation district spanning counties and municipalities from New Mexico to Wyoming could go to voters seeking approval on sales and use taxes to fund projects, including creating stations and public-private partnerships.

News5 would like to know, how do you believe state transportation funding should be allocated?

Results:
60% Update Roads/Interstates
37% Front Range Rail
2% Other (Buses, Rideshare, etc)

Editor's note: This survey is not based on scientific, representative samples and is solely for KOAA purposes.