COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) - A passenger rail along the Front Range of Colorado is another step closer to reality after a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill was signed into law by President Joe Biden last month. This is because the bill makes a historic $66 billion investment in Amtrak, and the railroad service says it's planning to pour some of that money into the Front Range project.
In an interview on ABC's GMA3: What You Need to Know, Amtrak President and CEO Stephen Gardner discussed the corporation's hopes of working with states to expand service to new corridors all over the United States.
“Places like Atlanta, cities like Columbus, Ohio, where we don't even serve its 2 million person metropolitan area, Denver Front Range growth has been massive," said Gardner. "These are the types of cities that we think Amtrak can make a big difference in and connects not only cities but those towns and their immediate areas to those places of growth.”
The path identified for the Front Range Passenger Rail would stretch more than 200 miles, from Pueblo in the south to Cheyenne, Wyoming in the north. Amtrak estimates ridership in 2035 would be 196,000, and the proposed route would create connections between 11 Fortune 500 companies and 25 universities.
Now that the infrastructure bill has passed, the Colorado Department of Transportation says the state can start applying for funding to get start-up money on the project. That's just one of many things left to accomplish before ever breaking ground.
Another major step on the to-do list: appointing 17 members to the new Front Range Passenger Rail District Board, which would develop the final plan. Their plan would also need to be approved by the Feds. The Front Range Passenger Rail District extends through 13 counties along the Front Range from the Wyoming state line to the New Mexico border.
"The people on the board have to be identified, nominated, and hopefully will be able to convene that first meeting as a legislative directive by May 15,” said James Souby, Chairman, Southwest Chief, and Front Range Passenger Rail Commission.
After that, the big test: convincing the voters along the Front Range to approve up to a 0.8 percent sales tax increase, which would be used to fund the development and operation of the train service.
How this railroad is sold to the voters — depends on that new District Board. This is why making sure those who are nominated, really understand the project.
“The mission will be much more of a deliberative body in a political sense," said Souby. "We want to make sure they get educated, informed, and understand what this is really all about. So that process can sort of try to start as soon as we know who's been nominated."
A low estimate on the price tag for the Front Range Passenger Rail is around $7 billion.
Souby says the rail commission hopes to have studied about the railroad done in the next three years, which would then be shown to the federal government. If approved, the plan could be put on the ballot for a vote.
CDOT tells KRDO the Federal Railroad Administration has told them communities that put in the preliminary work for massive projects like the Front Range Passenger Rail, are more likely to get grant funding. CDOT says they have already done some conceptual engineering, environmental, ridership, and cost studies which they believe puts the Front Range project in a great position to be awarded grants from the federal government.