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Southwest Chief Commission could steer trains up the Front Range

February 15, 2017 Updated: February 16, 2017 at 6:04 am
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The Southwest Chief still stops in Lamar, La Junta and Trinidad, but a Colorado commission hopes to land stops in Pueblo and Walsenburg, on the train's trek from Chicago to Los Angeles.

The volunteer state commission that's kept Amtrak's Southwest Chief rumbling across southern Colorado could begin work soon to bring passenger rail up the Front Range.

Pueblo Sen. Leroy Garcia got Senate Bill 153 out of his chamber's Local Government Committee Tuesday with a unanimous vote Tuesday afternoon. The bill preserves the Southwest Chief Commission and expands its role with more members from the Front Range with a dream of someday offering passenger trains running from Trinidad to Fort Collins.

The state, of course, has none of the money to add 260 miles of passenger rail with accompanying stations, but the massive growth planned for Colorado might someday make such a proposal a necessity, transit proponents contend.

"Continuing the work to establish transportation options that are reliable and affordable for my community is not only critical to hard-working southern Coloradans, but to hard-working people all across the state," Garcia said in a statement.

"Connecting the Front Range to southern Colorado, and vice-versa, through expanded public transportation options will empower people young and old with greater freedom of mobility, which in itself will be significant to solving much of the transit challenges we are facing as a state."

Garcia sponsored the legislation that created the commission in 2014. Its original purpose was to head off talks by Amtrak to cut Colorado from its southwest route, because of cost. The commission has worked to thwart that. The Chief still stops in Lamar, La Junta and Trinidad, but the commission hopes to land stops in Pueblo and Walsenburg, on the train's trek from Chicago to Los Angeles.

"An investment in the Southwest Chief is not only an investment in public transportation in rural Colorado, but also an investment in tourism and the Colorado economy," Garcia said. "It is time to finish the work we started."

If the bill becomes law, the new commission would submit a plan by December on how to get it done.

The bill moves next to the Senate Finance Committee.

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