The Surface Transportation Board (STB) is slowing the pace in Colorado, of the Midland & Pacific Railway’s pursuit to lease the Tennessee Pass Line from Union Pacific.
In its Jan. 29 announcement, the board issued an indefinite continuance, allowing time to review multiple arguments – including a Jan. 8 motion to reject the lease proposal filed by Colorado Pacific Railroad and parent company KCVN, which had sought the tracks for grain-hauling operations, as well as opposition raised by environmental groups and residents along the 163-mile route, and a coalition formed out of Eagle County that includes Chaffee County.
There are also considerable responses to consider from Colorado, Midland & Pacific, its parent company Rio Grande Pacific, and Union Pacific.
Colorado, Midland & Pacific announced on Dec. 31 its filing with the Surface Transportation Board to operate most of the Tennessee Pass Line, which has been dormant since 1997.
The railroad had filed for a streamlined “non-controversial” exemption with the transportation board that would move ahead its lease deal with Union Pacific. The exemption was to go into effect Jan. 30.
“To provide sufficient time for the board to fully consider the verified notices and the arguments presented, including whether the verified notices should be rejected, the exemptions in Docket Nos. FD 36470 and FD 36471 will not become effective until further order of the Board,” the Surface Transportation Board’s Jan. 29 decision read.
Railroad transactions are categorized as major, significant, minor or exempt, and leases from Class 1 railroads as well as short-line operations are often in the exempt category, meaning they don’t require board review.
But the flood of comments to the transportation board, demanding a thorough examination of the proposal, including historic and environmental concerns changed the dynamics. those concerns were raised by the Chaffee Board of County Commissioners, numerous citizens, as well as conservation organizations,
In a Jan. 22 motion to reject the notice of exemption filed by Colorado, Midland & Pacific, the organization known as American Whitewater told the Surface Transportation Board that “Any proposals to operate on the Tennessee Pass Line, including those from CMPR and Union Pacific Railroad Company, should be reviewed with the greatest level of scrutiny by the STB… The potentially devastating impacts to the surrounding human environment are immeasurable and necessitate a complete and thorough review before any operation of the railroad can be contemplated.”
American Whitewater, founded in 1954, has more than 6,200 members and 100 local-based affiliate clubs. “Our dues-paying members travel from around Colorado and from across the country to recreate on the Arkansas River between Granite and Cañon City and on the Eagle River between Minturn and Redcliff and as such, we are deeply invested in the protection and enhancement of the recreational, cultural, historical, scenic, and ecological values that exist in the Arkansas and Eagle River corridors,” wrote the group in its objection to the proposal.
It said that in the rail segment’s 24-year dormancy, “both the ecological and human environments have adapted and flourished to thrive in the absence of any rail traffic,” adding that the Arkansas River hosts 40 percent of Colorado’s commercial rafting days and contributes roughly $100 million to the local economy.
Moreover, American Whitewater said the exemption procedure sought by Colorado, Midland & Pacific was not appropriate for the proposed lease of the Tennessee Pass Line, because the operations would be neither “non-controversial” nor “continuing an existing common carrier rail service.”
Colorado, Midland & Pacific began the month amid a flurry of speculation that the Tennessee Pass Line might be a connection for proposed oil shale trains out of northeastern Utah’s Uinta Basin. The railroad has repeatedly denied the speculation, saying its primary interest is passenger rail, with consideration for additional commercial prospects, including freight. Rio Grande Pacific plans to operate the 85-mile Uinta Basin Railway should it be approved.