CDOT to invest $5 million in mountain passenger rail services

Oct. 25, 2023
The investment could potentially re-establish passenger rail services throughout northwest Colorado and expand the Bustang system on I-70 and other services for the first time since 1968.

Passenger rail services through northwest Colorado could be returning thanks to a $5 million investment by the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) that could potentially re-establish passenger rail services throughout the region and expand the Bustang system on I-70 and other services.

Local communities along the Yampa Valley have brought attention to the potential to re-establish passenger rail, specifically along the 191-mile Union Pacific Railroad route that runs from Denver through Winter Park and Steamboat Springs, ending in Craig. Passenger rail service along the route ended in 1968.

“Convenient passenger rail would be amazing,” said Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said. “A just transition for communities moving away from coal production, cutting traffic and reducing pollution are some of my administration’s top priorities. Expanding passenger rail service to the Yampa Valley can help on all these objectives. Funding for a service development plan for northwest mountain rail is a critical step toward making this passenger rail expansion a reality. Passenger rail can create jobs and boost our mountain communities in the Yampa Valley.”

CDOT says the vision for mountain rail, which CDOT has been working on for months, became a real possibility because of recent developments that include dramatically decreased coal train traffic on Union Pacific rail lines, leading UP officials to be open to the possibility of hosting more passenger rail on its mountain lines. UP lines already serve the California Zephyr and Winter Park ski trains but there is capacity for more passenger service, including from Denver to Steamboat Springs, Hayden and Craig.

"We have an unusual confluence of favorable conditions in place right now," said CDOT Executive Director Shoshana Lew. "This is a rare opportunity for us to get significant funding for a project that we know is very doable."

CDOT notes the passenger rail service would likely coordinate with and complement bus service in the mountains, including the Bustang system.

The next steps in the process include stakeholder input with communities along the route, counties, recreation industry partners and Union Pacific. Independently, CDOT is working with the Front Range Passenger Rail District on planning for Front Range Passenger Rail, which would provide complementary service from Pueblo, through Denver, to Fort Collins and to Wyoming and New Mexico.