Bill to support Front Range rail passed by legislature

 
PUEBLO – The Southwest Chief and Front Range Passenger Rail Commission bill, a bill to support Front Range rail service and save the current Southwest Chief Commission from expiring, passed its final House reading in the Colrorado Legislature on Tuesday, April 18.
 
The bill, passed with broad bipartisan support by a 40 to 25 vote, will now expand the South West Chief Commission’s scope, membership and mission to include expanding passenger rail along Colorado’s Front Range.
 
The result is not a surprise. A recent poll, conducted by Keating Research, found voters statewide prefer the idea of expanding passenger rail opposed to expanding interstate infrastructure or bus service. The poll found six out 10 people are in favor of using $50 million of the proposed $700 million dollar sales tax increase, proposed in HB17-1242, to expand Colorado’s passenger rail service, linking the Front Range Cities from Pueblo to Fort Collins. The same poll also found when it comes to expanding public transportation in Colorado, voters statewide prefer to expand commuter rail services oppose to expanding commuter bus services nearly 2-to-1.
 
“Imagine getting on a train in Pueblo on the way to a Rockies’ or Bronocos’ game in Denver and just smoothly zooming by all of the cars stuck on the congested interstates. This bill’s passage puts us one-step closer to that dream,” Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace said.
 
Front Range rail service would provide a solution to reduce highway congestion and also spur economic development.
 
A recent Ridership & Revenue study, conducted by Amtrak, forecasted that an extension of Southwest Chief service from La Junta to Pueblo, utilizing thru-cars, could generate an increase in 14,000 riders annually and ticket revenues of nearly $1.5 million.
 
The results of Amtrak’s Ridership & Revenue Study are supported by a similar 2015 study by Colorado State University-Pueblo. The CSU-P study concluded a Southwest Chief stop in Pueblo would attract almost $3.4 million and more than 15,500 annual passengers.
 
Amtrak’s Southwest Chief currently runs daily between Chicago and Los Angeles, traveling across the Mighty Mississippi, eight states and making stops near the south rim of the Grand Canyon and Santa Fe, New Mexico.
 
The bill still has to be signed by Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper.
 
The Southwest Chief Commission’s authorization is set to expire on July 1, 2017. Without this bill, the Southwest Chief Commission would cease to exist. If the bill is signed by Governor Hickenlooper, the new Southwest Chief and Front Range Passenger Rail Commission will have appointments from across the Front Range. The Commission will still be tasked with saving and preserving Amtrak’s Southwest Chief line. The Commission would, in addition, be tasked with facilitating Front Range passenger rail, including specifically drafting proposed legislation to help facilitate the mission.
 
Thanks to the work of the Southwest Chief Commission, financial commitments from 23 communities in four states and federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants about 60 percent of the immediate repairs and improvements to the Southwest Chief’s line have been made.
 
Through TIGER grants, Southwest Chief improvement projects have now received a total of $48.66 million, have added 78 miles of new continuously welded rail, from EVRAZ North America, in Colorado and New Mexico, has helped job retention in 23 communities and is keeping the Southwest Chief running through seven states.
 
CONTACT: For more information, please contact Paris Carmichael, Pueblo County Community Information Manager at carmichp@pueblocounty.us or 719-252-8550.
 
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