TOWN HALL: No Black Forest high speed rail (poll)

September 21, 2012
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The Front Range may get high speed rail, but not through Black Forest. The Colorado Department of Transportation announced on Tuesday that a proposed alignment from Pueblo, through eastern Colorado Springs and north through Black Forest to Denver is no longer on the table.

The announcement came in response to growing opposition. A meeting about the proposed rail line, which was scheduled for Sept. 25, has been canceled as a result of the state’s welcome announcement.

High speed rail along the Front Range would be pie-in-the-sky, if it weren’t for our federal government’s propensity to toss around billions in the name of creating “shovel ready” make-work jobs and protecting Mother Earth from SUVs. So don’t be surprised if high-speed rail goes from big idea to reality in the next decade or two.

Whether we need high-speed rail is a reasonable topic for debate. But the idea of building it through Black Forest was preposterous. The area is rich in foliage and wildlife and too sparsely populated to generate enough passengers.

A better route is along the freight line that runs through the west side of Colorado Springs and north through Monument, Palmer Lake, Larkspur, heavily populated areas of metro Denver and a variety of towns and subdivisions that sprawl from Denver all the way to Wyoming.

That proposed corridor remains in consideration. Noisy coal trains have run through that corridor for as long as any of us has been alive. It’s not a great corridor for coal trains because of mountainous terrain and increasingly dense population. A 2009 study by the Colorado Department of Transportation, paid for with $1.7 million in federal funds, found that moving the freight line to the eastern plains would substantially reduce fuel and crew costs for railroad companies, as a result of the less challenging terrain. It would benefit population centers along the Front Range by eliminating the negative effects of heavy freight traffic, including noise and long waits at crossings while trains crawl along steep slopes and sharp curves. Some of the trains are two miles long.

If and when the freight line is moved, which could also be a bunch of pie-in-the-sky, the abandoned corridor would be almost perfect for high-speed or conventional commuter rail. Passenger trains — shorter, lighter and quieter than coal trains — would run directly through population centers without causing a new dilemma for wildlife and trees. People could more easily live in Denver and work in the Springs, or vice versa, as rail would ease commutes. Property values along the corridor would soar, as homes within easy reach of passenger stations are coveted by buyers.

It is great that a passenger railway no longer looms over residents of Black Forest, who are accustomed to living among the trees in peace and quiet. The other proposed route would actually enhance peace and quiet for tens of thousands of Front Range residents who live with the sights and sounds of 30-plus freight trains each day. — Wayne Laugesen, for the editorial board. Friend Wayne on Facebook; follow on Twitter.

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