Guest column: Push for passenger rail keeps gaining momentum

Sonja Macys
Guest column

It has been 60 years since passengers rode the rail lines that connect Routt, Moffat and Grand counties. But many local folks still remember using that line for the movement of freight and passengers. Some of my favorite stories about the line conjure colorful memories, like when Routt County cattle were shipped to market dusted with coal ash.

Buyers knew that they came from Routt County and that the quality beef being produced here commanded a higher price. And then there are recollections from local ranchers whose families rode the train to visit the dentist in Kremmling. The coexistence between freight and passenger ended well before I was born. In my lifetime, the line has been used solely for freight. And the primary freight moving today is coal.

As we make our way into a new energy economy, the future of coal-fired power plants in Routt and Moffat counties is uncertain. As they close, between 2028 and 2030, will they become energy producers of a different variety who still need the line, as with biomass? Is hydrogen generation viable? Will they use the existing line for freight?

In the face of the unknown, one thing we do know is that people want to be here in Northwest Colorado, actually, everywhere in Colorado. With Colorado’s population projected to grow to 7.5 million people by 2050, passenger rail, complemented by freight movement, is a necessary part of our transportation future.

Our colleagues along the Front Range have recognized this and taken bold steps toward establishing passenger rail. They’ve completed a Service Development Plan (SDP) and have been included in the Federal Corridor Identification and Development Program (Corridor ID). Corridor ID is a rail planning and development program that will help guide intercity passenger rail development throughout the country and create a pipeline of intercity passenger rail projects ready for implementation. And, while our mountain rail effort is a few steps behind the Front Range effort, we are on the same track.

Since early 2023, Union Pacific has been at the table and ready to discuss our line. In the spring, they hosted a tour through the Moffat Tunnel on their Heritage Trains, noting that they were ready for a passenger rail proposal. Working with state Sen. Dylan Roberts and state Rep. Meghan Lukens, we answered the call, writing letters to encourage CDOT to allocate funding to this effort by authorizing an SDP for the mountain rail line. In the fall of 2023 the Transportation Commission allocated $5 million for the SDP and a study of statewide bus connectivity.

We’ve been barreling down the tracks ever since. During the 2023-24 legislative session, no fewer than four bills were passed to advance rail efforts statewide. One of these, SB24-190, authored by our own Sen. Roberts incentivizes use of the line for freight in coal-transition communities. CDOT has throttled forward on the SDP, and a Mountain Rail Coalition (MRC) is forming to serve as a liaison between local, state and federal efforts. We invite you to learn more by attending an upcoming Mountain Rail Coalition Kickoff event at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday in Winter Park. There is a virtual option.

Featured speakers include Congressman Joe Neguse, Gov. Jared Polis, Colorado House Speaker Julie McCluskie, Sen. Roberts and Rep. Lukens. CDOT will provide an update on the Mountain Rail Service Development Plan. There will be opportunities to join the Mountain Rail Coalition and help advance this timely and impactful project. To RSVP for in-person or virtual attendance, or to sign up for MRC e-updates, please contact Sarah Jones, Director of Social Responsibility for Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. at

Sonja Macys is a Routt County Commissioner and current Chair of the Mountain Rail Coalition.

Sonja Macys
Courtesy photo

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