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Colorado leaders ‘connecting the dots’ on high-speed rail

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A study of possible high-speed, intercity rail for Colorado has found that lines between Fort Collins and Pueblo and between Denver International Airport and Eagle County have the best "operating and cost-benefit results" of the options evaluated, The Denver Post reports.

The full system carries a
$21.1-billion price tag, but Harry Dale, chairman of the Rocky Mountain Rail
Authority, which produced the study, said the rail system would probably be
built in phases. The study, which is available at rockymountainrail.org, said
the most feasible option for intercity rail in Colorado assumes passengers
would pay fares averaging about 35 cents a mile, with one-way trips from
downtown Denver to Vail in the Interstate 70 corridor and from Denver to Pueblo
in the Interstate 25 corridor, with each trip costing about $40.

"In the I-25 corridor,
this option produces travel times much faster (90-100 mph average speeds) than
the automobile," according to the study’s executive summary. There is
sufficient demand to support trains every 15 to 30 minutes throughout the day. In
the I-70 corridor, while train speeds are lower due to the severe curve and
grade limitations, travel times (60-70 mph average speeds) are still
competitive with travel by automobile."

The feasibility study,
which took 18 months to complete and cost $1.4 million, said the DIA-Eagle/Fort
Collins-Pueblo rail network could carry up to 35 million passengers a year by
2035, generating more than $750 million in fare revenue.

The Colorado Department of
Transportation participated in the study and CDOT will continue to analyze the
state’s prospects for constructing high-speed rail.

The study looked at
alternatives that extended the lines farther north, west and south.

Dale, a Clear Creek County
commissioner, said the study is the first step in what could be a decades-long
effort to conduct more detailed environmental reviews of the potential for
high-speed rail in Colorado.

"It might be 10 to 20
years before we actually build anything," he said, noting economic
conditions could be far more favorable for construction of intercity rail at
that time. We do not have to build all of this at once," he added, but
rather the rail project will almost certainly be built in phases."

The study identifies a
$3.32-billion rail segment from DIA to downtown Denver and then south to
Colorado Springs as a likely first phase.

The next phase would extend
high-speed rail in the I-70 corridor from downtown Denver to the Summit County
resorts of Keystone, Breckenridge and Copper Mountain – "likely the most
difficult and expensive segment to construct because of extensive tunneling
needed for I-70 crossing the Continental Divide."

The study estimates this
phase would cost $9.55 billion.

The high-speed rail segment
from DIA to downtown Denver would not compete directly with RTD’s planned East
Corridor commuter train that will link the airport and Denver’s Union Station,
Dale said. The Regional Transportation District’s airport train will serve
local transit patrons with a 30-minute trip for what might be a $5 fare, he
said, while the high-speed alternative might make the same trip in 12 minutes
for a $15 fare.

"This is not meant to
be fare-subsidized," Dale said of the proposed high-speed rail system.
"Average speeds must be superior to travel by car, or nobody will ride.
There have got to be time savings to make it worthwhile."

While a full high-speed
rail network might cost up to $21 billion, that price tag would be
counterbalanced by long-term economic benefits totaling $33 billion from jobs,
income and economic wealth created by the project, the study says. Backers of the
plan also hope to bid for future federal dollars for high-speed rail.

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