04 June 2019

The Latest Front Range Rail Plans Are Underwhelming

 The latest plan is to build a 173 passenger rail route more or less along I-25 from Fort Collins to Pueblo. 
Speeds would likely be around 80 miles an hour, which is similar to the A-Line from downtown Denver to Denver International Airport. 
Charles Albi, the former Colorado Railroad Museum Director. . . . says acquiring land to build a new rail line would be extremely costly and difficult, so state officials will likely have to convince BNSF to let them use the existing line. 
"It's not like back in the day where you had wide open prairie, and you could build anywhere you wanted," he says. 
Similar routes exist between Milwaukee and Chicago, and in the Pacific Northwest between Seattle and Eugene, Oregon. 
"People talk about the great trains in Europe and in China. There's a reason for that. Population density. And we're getting to that point," says Albi. 
CDOT officials do not have a price tag for the project yet, and say the earliest we could see it in place would be 2023. 
It's also unclear how it will be funded.
From here.

At 80 miles per hour, before considering time lost to load and unload passengers at stops along the way, running parallel to a highway with large portions that have a 75 mile per hour speed limit, this is a very expensive project that is better off not done at all. Heavily subsidized buses along the line of existing Bustang service would be a better deal and provide similar service time and quality.

I am not saying that high speed rail isn't worth considering. 

The corridor from Fort Collins to Colorado Springs has enough population density to support a passenger rail line (although it does not make sense along the low traffic and already very fast stretch from Colorado Springs to Pueblo). Flying is very hard to make competitive at those distances due to time spent going to and from airports to final destinations and security and boarding delays. But, to be an attractive alternative, a front range passenger line needs to be able to go much faster than 80 mph and needs a dedicated rail line that doesn't have to interface with roads and highways or with other slow speed trains on existing tracks.

If you spend what it takes to get speeds of 140 mph to 220 mph, which is the current state of the art for high speed rail, the improved service would divert a lot of I-25 traffic, and would add value in the connections between Colorado's big Front Range cities.


Dave Barnes said...

"I am not saying that high speed rail isn't worth considering. "
I would say: should not even be considered for Colorado.
The density is not there.
The transportation at each end is not solved. Taxis and Uber are expensive.
"Americans" hate trains (except when they are in Europe).
Prices would have to heavily subsidized and there is zero politcal will for that.

andrew said...

Population density in the Fort Collins to Colorado Springs corridor rivals that of plenty of places of decent passenger rail.

There are lots of places in the U.S. that indeed aren't dense enough for passenger rail to make sense, and for that reason, most of the AMTRAK system should be dismantled. But, there are exceptions and this is one of them. This is also why, for example, a Colorado Springs to Pueblo component, or a Fort Collins to Cheyenne component, doesn't make economic sense.

All of the major cities in the high density corridor, except Castle Rock, have underwhelming but minimally sufficient public transit systems, and rail would take you close to central business district to central business district, so the need for long distance "last mile" transportation wouldn't be all that great for a lot of business travelers. Uber and Lyft are also not very expensive for very short trips which a CBD train station could facilitate.

The greater the speed, the less the price needs to be subsidized because it offers something better than the status quo. At 140-220 mph, you can charge ticket prices comparable to short haul airline flights (about $116+ one way https://www.orbitz.com/lp/flights/178254/602991/denver-to-colorado-springs) plus the cost of CBD to airport and airport to CBD (about $20+) transportation. At 80 mph, you can barely charge more than a Greyhound ticket (about $14 from Denver to Colorado Springs). At 140 mph- 220 mph, you could easily sell tickets for $75-$80 one way and still get lots of traffic. At 80 mph, you would struggle to get much traffic even at a $15 one way fare.

andrew said...

Acela fares from Philadelphia to NYC which is similar to the distance from Fort Collins to Colorado Springs, cost $110-125 one way and more than cover their operating costs. This would be a faster trip, so a $150 trip from Fort Collins to Colorado Springs wouldn't be out of line and $75-$80 for Denver to Colorado Springs might be a bit low. https://www.google.com/search?ei=Ifz5XJqyL4SctgX85b-AAg&q=ny+to+philadelphia+acela+fare&oq=ny+to+philadelphia+acela+fare&gs_l=psy-ab.3..33i22i29i30l2.15029.18845..19098...0.0..0.116.1619.15j3......0....1..gws-wiz.......0i71j0i22i30j0j0i20i263j0i22i10i30.u4s8FjsvMvc