The Front Range Passenger Train Is A Coming Mess – Full Colorado – Page Two
The pandemic has made people reluctant to board any form of public transportation. But that hasn’t stopped the state of Colorado from planning a silly Front Range passenger train that’s proposed to run between Fort Collins and Pueblo, with Denver in between. In June, Governor Jared Polis signed a bill creating a tax district to pay for the train’s inevitable losses. Last week, the Colorado Transportation Commission agreed to spend $1.9 million on a viability study (which will double the total cost).
the Denver Post, who was a major cheerleader for Denver’s $4.9 billion FasTracks plan until it became the $7.9 billion FasTracks plan, by which time it was too late, is now a major cheerleader of the Front Range passenger train plan. He claims an Amtrak train between Chicago and Milwaukee “shows what it could be.” Yes, because Fort Collins (population: 170,000) and Pueblo (population: 112,000) are like Milwaukee (population: 577,000), and Denver (population: 715,000) is like Chicago (population: 2.75 million).
In whis equivalent to a footnote, the To post also mentions the Albuquerque-Santa Fe train, which (according to the newspaper) costs the state of New Mexico $24 million a year (in fact, it was $38 million in 2019) and whose ridership has declined every year since 2010, which the paper blames on “long commute times.” Travel times on trains from Fort Collins to Pueblo are likely to be worse as these trains will have to compete with freight trains for space on the tracks while the New Mexico passenger train has primarily the tracks for himself.
The paper also mentions the Portland-Seattle highway, on which Washington state has spent $800 million “since 2010 on improvements aimed at reducing travel times, which poses an ongoing challenge.” Which is another way of saying that travel times still haven’t been reduced eleven years, $800 million, and three lifetimes later. The document does not mention that, even if successful, all that money would have increased train speeds by just 2.7 miles per hour. What a great success story!
The Regional Transit District (RTD) of Denver would also like to see the project funded. RTD’s FasTracks plan called for a rail line to Longmont, but due to cost overruns there was a lack of money for this line. The Front Range train, if funded, would satisfy Longmont officials’ desire for a train to play with.
The state already subsidizes bus service in this corridor which carried 171,000 passengers in 2019. Amtrak predicts that if passenger trains started operating, they would attract 200,000 passengers a year. Start-up costs are expected to be between $1.7 billion and $2.8 billion. Can anyone really believe that it would be worth that much money to attract 29,000 more passengers a year?
I can save the state a lot of money and tell them this mess is not sustainable, but apparently we have different definitions of viable. My definition is: “Is a passenger train the most cost-effective means of achieving transportation goals?” Their definition is, “Can we sell this turkey to voters in up to 13 counties?” Given that FasTracks is very expensive and failed to get anyone out of their car (public transport’s share of trips in 2019 was slightly lower than it was in 2000), you have to wonder what Colorado officials are fuming to think another passenger train will make all the difference.
Randal O’Toole is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute in Washington, DC and director of transportation policy at the Independence Institute, a free-market think tank in Denver. A version of this originally appeared on his blog, The Antiplanner.
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