There’s a new bill in the works that could create one of the most expansive public transportation plans in Colorado history. SB21-238, introduced last week by Senate President Leroy Garcia, would lay the groundwork for an interconnected, high-speed passenger rail system spanning from Trinidad north to the Wyoming border – allowing residents all along the Front Range to travel more efficiently.
“Front Range Rail has been a top priority of mine since coming to the legislature,” said Garcia, D-Pueblo. “For too long Colorado’s transportation system has been underfunded and overburdened, leading to crumbling roads and horrible traffic congestion. We need a long-term solution that will address our growing population needs while ensuring people can get to where they need to go safely and efficiently. High-speed trains connecting our state from top to bottom will allow for more residential movement and increased economic growth. I am overwhelming proud to finally see this project get off the ground and in turn shape the future of our state for generations to come.”
Chaffee County Commissioner Keith Baker, chair for the San Luis Valley Transportation Planning Region and advisor for Chaffee County Transportation Advisory Board, said he supports the bill.
“I’d like to see it, from Albuquerque or Santa Fe to Cheyenne,” he said. Baker added that one passenger rail concept is to have service between Pueblo and Dotsero, allowing people options to Denver for boarding Amtrak’s California Zephyr.
The bill is co-sponsored by both sides of the aisle, including Republican Senators Kevin Priola from Adams County and Cleave Simpson from Alamosa.
“I am excited to co-sponsor legislation creating the Front Range Passenger Rail District,” Simpson said. “The creation of the District moves Colorado one step closer to the realization of a safe, efficient, and reliable transportation alternative along the Front Range, from Wyoming to New Mexico. The potential operation of new passenger rail service within the District would be a monumental benefit to Colorado generally and to southern Colorado in particular.”
In a 2019 poll, more than 85 percent of respondents supported the creation of Front Range passenger rail service with 92 percent interested in using the system if it were available. Some 95 percent believe it would help address transportation needs and congestion along the Front Range.
For decades Colorado’s transportation infrastructure has been notably underfunded, an issue that has only intensified with the massive population increase over recent years. Some experts believe that the overuse and subsequent deterioration of Colorado’s roads and bridges have also led to depressed economic growth.
“The population in Colorado is estimated to grow by 2 million by 2030,” said Trinidad Mayor Phil Rico. “The majority of new residents will settle along the Front Range – severely impacting our roads even further. In order to move people efficiently on a daily basis along the Front Range from Fort Collins to Trinidad, we need another mode of transportation that will reduce emissions, help to meet the Governor’s climate action goals, and provide a safe means of transportation. Passenger rail can be a solution to this dilemma that we are facing and allow Colorado to plan for our future transportation needs.”
The bill proposes creating a Front Range Passenger Rail Board to research, develop, construct, operate, and maintain the rail system and instructs them to work collaboratively with RTD as well as Amtrak to ensure interconnectedness and compatibility with existing services and projects. SB21-238 outlines modes of funding, including sales and use-tax increases for rail districts (subject to voter approval) and federal investment.
The bill has been assigned to the Senate Transportation and Energy Committee. Track the progress of the bill here: https://leg.colorado.gov/bills/sb21-238