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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Colorado railroad seeks stimulus grant

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The San Luis and Rio Grande Railway will become a major mover of goods and people in the San Luis Valley if a proposal for stimulus money gets approved, local newspapers report. Valley leaders and representatives of Iowa Pacific, owner of the San Luis and Rio Grande Railway, met with Colorado Department of Transportation Commissioner Steve Parker yesterday for advice on how to successfully proceed with a proposal for Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant.


TIGER grants are for transportation projects that will encourage economic development in both urban and rural areas. Parker said $1.5 billion has been earmarked for projects that range from $20 to $350 million.


Ed Ellis, president of Iowa Pacific, said his company is submitting a grant for $80 million to upgrade the San Luis Valley rail tracks for 60 mph traffic. According to the company web site, there are 149.6 miles of track used by the railroad. Ellis said he wants to be able to carry freight from South Fork to Walsenburg. He wants to utilize the freight dock and warehouses south of Antonito as a major transfer point, where agricultural goods can be loaded onto trucks and shipped out to New Mexico and other points.


As for the passenger end of the business, Ellis said his company would not be seeking federal subsidies. Having the train available for passengers would be even more important after the Greyhound bus service stops running in September, he said.


Parker said getting a grant for TIGER funds would not be easy.


"There's only $1.5 billion, and every transportation system in the nation is going after those funds," Parker said. "It's a national competitive process, and there is no guarantee that Colorado will be getting a dime."


The CDOT will review all TIGER grant proposals and send a prioritized list for a federal review. The leading Colorado contender of all proposals received so far is an expansion of US Hwy 36, he said.


Parker said he would be happy to carry the SLV message to meetings scheduled this week in Denver, but that he could give no guarantees. He did say that there are provisions in the TIGER guidelines that focus on economically disadvantaged rural areas.


Local and congressional support would be key, Parker said. Valley leaders all said they would submit letters of support to be included with the final grant application, and Ellis indicated that congressional support would not be a problem.


"I'll tell you what I can do," Parker said. "Send me a brief copy of your proposal. I will do what I can to see that it is read and put on our list."


The SLRG serves La Veta, Fort Garland, Blanca, Alamosa (freight dock and warehouse), La Jara, Romeo, Conejos, Antonito (freight dock and warehouse), Monte Vista, Torres, Del Norte, and South Fork. According to their Website, sidings for liquid and bulk transfers are available at all stations.