Passenger Rail between Wyoming and Colorado is On Track
Written by Andrew-Rossi on January 24, 2023
The Transcontinental Railroad connected Wyoming to the nation – now, the Front Range Passenger Rail Line could eventually wind its way from Colorado to Montana – but the first stop in Wyoming starts in Cheyenne.
Colorado has geared up its efforts to bring passenger rail service to the Front Range, and Cheyenne is staying on course to eventually connect Wyoming with the new line.
“Cheyenne’s economy is inextricably linked to the Front Range,” said Dale Steenbergen, president and CEO of the Greater Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce. “It is important for us to keep our efforts aligned and on track. Passenger rail is a major step in building the future of transportation in our region.”
The Front Range Passenger Rail project would establish daily passenger train service on an existing rail line along the I-25 corridor, initially from Pueblo to Fort Collins in Colorado and later to Wyoming and New Mexico.
The idea of a multi-state rail line has been floated around for decades. However, the project gained serious traction when Congress enacted the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act in 2021, providing $66 billion in funding for passenger rail projects around the country.
The Federal Railroad Administration is currently taking proposals from states, local governments, and others on new passenger rail corridors where Amtrak could expand its service. The federal agency will then select which proposals should get federal funding.
The Front Range project is centered on Colorado, as the state took the lead in developing it by allocating nearly $9 million for planning the route. In addition, the state created an independent special governing district that can levy voter-approved taxes to build and operate a passenger rail system.
“We feel that we are situated pretty well,” said Andy Karsian, the Colorado district general manager. “We’re ahead of the game based on the work that groups have done on this in Colorado and the region to date. So we’re building upon those. We’re a little bit ahead of other folks around the country that are doing this as well.”
Karisan says the district is currently working on getting organized, developing more studies, and seeking federal grants to fund more detailed plans for the proposed new rail service.
Next Stop: Cheyenne.
Tom Mason, director of the Cheyenne Metropolitan Planning Organization, said his office has been closely involved with the Colorado project from the beginning.
“We’ve always wanted to be there and participate because we don’t want them to forget that we’re the northern anchor of the Front Range, not Fort Collins,” he said, “…And people down in Colorado have done a good job of involving us.”
Steenbergen is already a nonvoting member of the special district oversight board in Colorado. Meanwhile, Mason’s office has already secured funds to determine the feasibility and possible location of a passenger train station in the downtown Cheyenne area.
While no location has been identified yet, Mason said the planned redevelopment of the Reed Avenue Corridor in downtown Cheyenne could be a candidate.
Mason said his office also has been working with the Wyoming Department of Transportation on other related projects to provide more transportation options for the Cheyenne region that would tie in nicely with the passenger rail service when it reaches Wyoming.
While the rail line is being planned and built, other projects will be developed to complement the line. One of the adjacent projects is establishing a bus service between Cheyenne and Fort Collins.
However, it will take years to build the line between Pueblo and Fort Collins and still more years and work to extend to Cheyenne.
“We’re not just sitting on our hands when it comes to making Cheyenne part of the passenger rail program,” Mason said. “We’re doing what we can to improve the transportation options for people to go back and forth between Cheyenne and northern Colorado and beyond to downtown Denver, and we’re doing what we can to plan to be a part of the passenger rail line once it gets going.”
Those additional transportation options will be important because traffic will continue to increase between Cheyenne and Fort Collins as Cheyenne continues to grow economically and demographically, he said. He noted that Colorado is currently expanding I-25 between Denver and Fort Collins to three lanes each way but has no plans to add more lanes from Fort Collins to the Wyoming state line.
“And the next step is highway transit and eventually passenger rail,” he said. “… And what’s the choice we want to make: Do we want to go to the expense of widening I-25 to three lanes in each direction between Cheyenne and Fort Collins, or do we want to go the route of passenger rail? So that’s a major policy issue that will someday need to be tackled by Cheyenne and the Wyoming Department of Transportation.”
If the decision is for passenger train service, Cheyenne will need to complete a development plan for its section of track, fund its station and form its own special district, Mason said.
Once Cheyenne’s leg is established, the rail service could eventually go to Casper and Montana.
In the end, adding passenger rail service and other modes of transportation will mean more people coming to Cheyenne and a more vibrant local economy, Mason said.
Karsian recounted a trip on the Big Boy steam engine train from Denver to Cheyenne Frontier Days, describing it as an “amazing” and “wonderful” experience that provides a glimpse of the possible economic benefits of regular passenger train service.
“We want to keep moving the rail line north as much as possible and create as much of this economic benefit for the region all along,” he said.