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Colorado: High Speed Rail Feasibility Study

Posted by Content Coordinator on Tuesday, April 6th, 2010


Executive Summary

The Rocky Mountain Rail Authority (RMRA), a multi-jurisdictional government body comprised of more than 50 Colorado cities, towns, counties and transit authorities, has determined that, based on Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) criteria, high-speed rail is feasible in Colorado’s I-70 and I-25 corridors. The FRA considers trains capable of reaching speeds greater than 90 mph high-speed rail.

Colorado has a unique transportation challenge. Our mountain resorts and metropolitan areas play a special role as national and international attractions. The vast majority of the state’s commercial and recreational centers are connected by just two major highways, I-70 and I-25. Traffic congestion is increasing in both corridors, impeding travel during weekdays on I-25 and weekends on I-70.

This study evaluated the I-70 corridor from Denver International Airport (DIA) to Grand Junction. I-70 serves as a gateway to more than twenty world-class recreation resorts including Aspen/Snowmass, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Copper Mountain, Keystone, Steamboat Springs and Vail. Central City and Blackhawk have formed a multi-casino complex that attracts large numbers of visitors every year. The topography of the corridor creates unique transportation challenges – challenges that can be hampered by unpredictable weather and travel patterns year round.

The study evaluated the I-25 corridor from Cheyenne, WY to Trinidad, CO, passing through the metropolitan areas of Fort Collins, Denver, Colorado Springs and Pueblo along the way. I-25 connects Colorado’s growing metropolitan areas along the Front Range. These communities comprise rapidly growing cities and towns with significant commercial and recreational centers.

As a result, the I-25 and I-70 corridors not only have the conventional intercity travel patterns of business, commuter and social trip making, but their demand is overlaid by very-substantial, highly focused flows of local communities along I-25 and out-of-state tourists from DIA to the resorts and vacation spots along both the I-70 and I-25 corridors. All of this combines to challenge Colorado’s transportation infrastructure in both corridors.

The 18-month feasibility study, conducted with significant financial and technical support from the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), focused on determining whether options exist that are capable of meeting FRA technical, financial and economic criteria for high-speed rail feasibility.

The study considered a full range of technology options from conventional Amtrak service (with maximum speeds of 79 mph) through high-speed train and magnetic levitation technologies that have maximum speeds of up to 300 mph. It also evaluated a comprehensive set of possible corridors including highway routes, existing and abandoned rail routes, and completely new Greenfield routes. General station locations were also evaluated based on potential market-demand and existing local planning efforts.

Combinations of technologies/routes/stations were analyzed and optimized through a dynamic evaluation process that focused on technical and economic feasibility. In addition, input was gathered from a steering committee comprised of technical and policy level representatives that met monthly and from teams of local agency stakeholders in both corridors that met at key milestones.

Among the most critical FRA feasibility criteria for high-speed rail are:
• Positive (>1.0) operating ratio – This means that, unlike public highways and local transit systems, the project does not require any government subsidies to cover its cost of operation;
• Positive (>1.0) cost-benefit ratio – This means that for every dollar of capital and operating costs, the project creates economic benefits greater than one dollar.

The study identified a number of options between Fort Collins and Pueblo in the I-25 corridor and Denver International Airport and Eagle County Airport in the I-70 corridor that exceed the FRA’s threshold for high-speed rail feasibility.

For illustrative purposes, one of those options was further optimized and used to develop a sample implementation plan as part of this report. That implementation plan identifies four potential phases for having high-speed rail operational in Colorado as early as 2021.

Download full executive summary (PDF): High Speed Rail Feasibility Study
Download full report (PDF): High Speed Rail Feasibility Study

About the Rocky Mountain Rail Authority
“The RMRA is a governmental body made up of 45 member-counties, municipalities and other organizations along both the I-70 and I-25 corridors. It was created to explore passenger rail as part of a viable transportation solution for Colorado.”

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