Denver’s Next Train Could Run From Fort Collins to Pueblo

For a state not known for a love of passenger trains, Colorado has had a very good couple of years.  Ridership on the California Zephyr is up, the Ski Train to Winter Park is back, and Denver opened yet another light rail line just this past month.  Colorado’s next train might be going from Fort Collins to Pueblo and on to Trinidad.  A new Colorado senate bill with bipartisan support is funding a feasibility study to find out the costs of such a train.

Denver completed a massive renovation of their historic Union Station in 2014 and turned it into a regional transit hub, but Denver still lacks rail service to other major Colorado cities.

Northern Colorado last had passenger train service when Amtrak’s Pioneer Line ran from Denver to Cheyenne and on to Seattle.  The line had a stop in Greeley, but service was terminated in 1997.  Fort Collins, Loveland, Longmont, and Boulder have been without passenger service since 1970, the year Amtrak was created.  Southern Colorado currently has daily train service, but probably not anywhere you want to go.  Amtrak’s Southwest Chief runs from Chicago to Los Angeles and passes through Colorado, stopping in Lamar, La Junta, and Trinidad.  The busiest of the three stations is La Junta, which boards and unloads about 20 total passengers on two daily trains.

Trinidad, Colorado doesn’t have a station building but does have a small platform and daily service to Los Angeles and Chicago.  A front range train line could link Denver to the Western cities of Albuquerque, Flagstaff, Los Angeles, and Eastern destinations such as Kansas City and Saint Louis.

This new train line being proposed would begin in Fort Collins, stop in Loveland, Longmont, Boulder, and Denver’s Union Station.  It would then continue South to Colorado Springs and Pueblo before terminating in Trinidad where passengers could switch to the Southwest Chief and continue on to Albuquerque, Los Angeles, or Kansas City.  I plotted a possible route map with station locations available here.  Denver, Pueblo, and Walsenburg still have functional train stations which could be used. Stations are being planned in Boulder and Longmont as part of RTD’s B Line commuter rail, and Trinidad has a platform which is used by Amtrak’s Southwest Chief line.  Colorado Springs, Fort Collins and Loveland all have existing stations, but they are occupied by offices and restaurants.

Pueblo Union Depot.jpg
Pueblo’s Historic Union Depot still stands and is ready to see train service again.
Loveland’s train station is now a bar and restaurant.

A passenger rail line along the front range has been studied before, as has commuter rail and even 150 mph high-speed rail from Fort Collins to Pueblo, but this new plan would use exist tracks, contract with Amtrak to run them and be relatively inexpensive to launch. Colorado already subsidizes train service.  In 2015 Amtrak was planning on moving the route of the Southwest Chief line South through Texas, but Colorado, Kansas, and New Mexico all agreed to provide money for track maintenance and preserve the current route.

What are the possibilities that this route could actually be developed?  It is difficult to say. Colorado would have to provide funds to make this a reality.  Many states subsidize passenger train service already.  These states include Texas, Oklahoma, North Carolina, and Maine, so it isn’t unheard of for a traditionally fiscally conservative state to pony up the dollars.  Many times, however, proposals are put forth that everyone likes but no one is willing to pay for.  Kansas tried bringing train service to Wichita, but nothing ever happened.  In the early 2000s, a proposal to connect Denver to Texas via the Caprock Chief were floated around before a lack of funding killed the idea.

If you are eager to get to Colorado Springs or Pueblo, you’ll still have to take the car. The bill passed by the senate only studies feasibility, and a proposal won’t be ready until the end of 2017. The study would include train frequencies and station locations. Would you ride a train either to Fort Collins or to Colorado Springs or Pueblo?  Leave a comment and let us know what you think.