Last passenger train through BV

Times file photo

Former Times reporter Bill Jablonski captured the last passenger train passing through Buena Vista in July, 1997.

As the last passenger train headed east departed Salida July 23, 1967, The Mountain Mail reported “a little girl standing nearby started to cry. Another onlooker, a Salidan, said, ‘That’s how we all feel.’”

The last passenger train to and from Salida heading west over Tennessee Pass ran Dec. 5, 1964. The last freight traversed the Tennessee Pass Line Aug. 23, 1997.

That “end of an era” for the railroading families of Salida may be on the verge of a rebirth.

A press release issued Dec. 31 by Rio Grande Pacific Corporation, parent company to Colorado Midland & Pacific Railway, stated the subsidiary company has entered into a commercial agreement with Union Pacific Railroad for the majority of the Tennessee Pass rail line in Colorado owned by UP.

Colorado Midland & Pacific has also filed for common carrier authority to operate the Tennessee Pass Line with the U.S. Surface Transportation Board, the federal agency that regulates railroads.

Rio Grande Pacific Corporation owns or operates freight and passenger services in eight states.

The section of the Tennessee Pass Line leased runs from Parkdale, in Fremont County to Sage. If there is interest, Colorado Midland & Pacific will assist public agencies in obtaining funding for establishing passenger rail services.

The proposed service would connect residential areas and workplaces of Eagle, Lake, Chaffee and Fremont counties.

The shortline railroad also intends to explore development opportunities for freight rail services originating or terminating on the Tennessee Pass Line.

No oil through Browns Canyon

Rio Grande Pacific addressed the concern that Tennessee Pass might be used to transport Utah crude oil through Browns Canyon in an updated press release.

“Speculation that RGPC’s interest in Tennessee Pass is for the operation of trains carrying crude oil from Utah is false. RGPC has no plan to operate oil trains over Tennessee Pass,” the press release stated.

Following the initial announcement, speculation began about the possibility of crude oil transportation from Utah.

The leased track runs from Parkdale to Sage in Eagle County and includes track running through Browns Canyon National Monument, between Salida and Buena Vista.

The Friends of Browns Canyon posted the possibility of crude oil transportation through the national monument on its website, citing the Rio Grande Pacific’s role in the development of the Uinta Basin Railway in Utah.

According to the Uinta Basin Railway Draft Environments Impact Statement, that proposed 85-mile rail line would provide a rail connection between the Uinta Basin oil and gas fields near Myton and Leland Beach, Utah to an existing Union Pacific rail line near Kyune, Utah and thence to refineries on the Gulf Coast.

Friends of Browns Canyon, referencing Trains Magazine, wrote that the Tennessee Pass Line could be used as a “shortcut sending Utah heavy crude through Browns Canyon.”

A headline and subheadline for a March 9 article by Bill Stephens on Trains.com initially indicated information from a Surface Transportation Board filing showed that crude oil might move over Tennessee Pass, however a March 12 correction stated, “Crude oil moving over Tennessee Pass comes from the author’s inferences.”

Tennessee Pass Line

In 1996, the Union Pacific Railroad bought the Southern Pacific Railroad and routed traffic through the Moffat Tunnel.

A September Colorado Department of Transportation report to the Transportation Legislation Review Committee on Rail Abandonments and the Potential for Rail Line Acquisitions stated, “The Tennessee Pass line runs 178 miles from near Gypsum, through Eagle, Edwards, Avon, and Minturn, under Tennessee Pass (by tunnel) and along the Arkansas River via Leadville, Buena Vista and Salida to Cañon City to Pueblo.

The Tennessee Pass Line has been identified as significant to CDOT because of its potential to carry both passengers and freight, and because it is the only existing trans-mountain alternative in Colorado to the Moffat Tunnel line, which often runs near capacity. The Tennessee Pass line may serve as an alternate route as trans-mountain rail demand grows due to increased development on the Western Slope or if the Moffat Tunnel were damaged or closed for any reason.

Other interests in the line

Back in February another company, Colorado Pacific Railroad, LLC, owned by KCVN, LLC, a New York real estate company with grain interests, filed an application to the Surface Transportation Board with a plan to reactivate the Tennessee Pass Line with freight and passenger service.

In response to the Union Pacific decision to lease the line to Colorado Midland & Pacific, Colorado Pacific Railroad, LLC issued a press release.

“Colorado Pacific Railroad LLC (CXR) will be filing a protest at the Surface Transportation Board asking it not to approve the Tennessee Pass lease agreement announced Dec. 31, between Union Pacific and Rio Grande Pacific on grounds that UP thereby maintains its monopoly stranglehold across the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, in defiance of concerns about the Tennessee Pass Line stated by the board in its decision in the 1996 Union Pacific-Southern Pacific merger case.

“It appears that CXR should also request the reopening of that case, to enable Colorado’s competitive access to the national railroad network.

“Further, RGP has selected a business entity name deceptively similar to ours, in a purposeful effort to confuse the public. This is legally actionable and will not be tolerated,” the release stated.

Stefan Soloviev, owner of KCVN, LLC and Colorado Pacific, LLC stated, “Monopolies have proven time and again in agriculture throughout the history of the United States to hurt no one more than the farmer and growers on the western plains and across the country.”

Colorado Midland & Pacific does intend to explore development opportunities for freight rail services originating or terminating on the Tennessee Pass Line.

Colorado Midland & Pacific president Robert Bach said, “We look forward to engaging in the transportation planning work already underway to determine how the Tennessee Pass Line might play a role. It’s exciting to bring this additional option to the table.”

Changes for the community

The reintroduction of the train to Chaffee County has potential drawbacks.

Chaffee County Commissioner Greg Felt said Friday he had only seen the Rio Grande press release, but that there are a ton of unanswered questions.

He pointed to how much the area has changed in the last 25 years, since trains were part of the landscape in Chaffee County.

“It does concern me how people would adapt to this change,” he said.

The Colorado Midland & Pacific will assess the interest of the communities served by the Tennessee Pass Line for commuter rail services.

Track and other infrastructure will require rehabilitation before any service can begin.

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