Lease of dormant Tennessee Pass Line still very much alive

Written by RT&S Staff
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Union Pacific

Plans to revive a dormant rail line between Pueblo, Colo., and Dotsero, Colo., are still alive, but what version it will be is in question.

Union Pacific’s lifeless Tennessee Pass Line has been a hot commodity over the last year or so. Colorado Pacific Railroad wants to lease the route to move agriculture product, while Rio Grande Pacific has plans for a line that would carry both freight and passengers. It is still unclear if the Rio Grande Pacific plan will include the transport of oil.

Union Pacific is supporting the Rio Grande Pacific version to develop service on the Tennessee Pass Line to move freight and passengers. It has agreed to lease the line to Rio and insists it is not negotiating with other companies.

Rio Grande Pacific, however, is facing a lawsuit involving the Uinta Basin Railway project in Utah. Already approved by the Surface Transportation Board, the project could transport up to 350,000 barrels of waxy crude oil on Union Pacific’s Moffat Line, which is active, through Dotsero in western Eagle County and along the Colorado River en route to Denver and Gulf Coast refineries. Eagle County and other environmental groups filed the lawsuit.

The question is would the transport of oil happen on the Tennessee Pass Line? Rio Grande Pacific officials insist it would not use Tennessee Pass to move oil. In fact, Rio Grande Pacific recently amended its lease with Union Pacific to exclude the presence of hazardous materials on the Tennessee Pass Line.

Eagle County officials claim they have not heard from Rio Grande Pacific in months regarding the project, and Chaffee County (Colo.) commissioners wonder if the crude oil would be included under the hazardous material definition.

The STB rejected an expedited deal by Colorado Midland & Pacific, which is working with Rio Grande, to lease the Tennessee Pass Line. The Colorado Pacific Railroad said if the STB grants a lease request involving Colorado Midland & Pacific and Union Pacific it will not eliminate the underlying issue of whether crude oil, coal, or hazardous commodities traverse the line “because Union Pacific is the underlying owner of the rail and it cannot refuse to transport those commodities if someone makes a reasonable request for service.”

Colorado Pacific wants the Tennessee Pass to serve as a viable alternative to Union Pacific’s Moffat Tunnel route for freight traffic. The company also offered a daily roundtrip passenger service between Pueblo and Minturn, Colo., but does not believe there is enough population to support such a move and pulled the idea.

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