Bill that would launch study for Front Range rail line from Pueblo to Fort Collins passes Senate

DENVER – A proposal that aims to continue work toward a Pueblo stop on Amtrak’s Southwest Chief passenger train route, and to add a passenger train route from Trinidad along the Front Range to Fort Collins, cleared a Colorado Senate floor vote Thursday morning.

Senate Bill 153 is co-sponsored by Sen. Larry Crowder, a Republican who represents much of the area in southern Colorado the Southwest Chief runs through, as well as Sen. Leroy Garcia and Rep. Daneya Esgar – both Pueblo Democrats.

The bill would replace the Southwest Chief Rail Line Economic Development, Rural Tourism, and Infrastructure Repair and Maintenance Commission with a new commission, the Southwest Chief and Front Range Passenger Rail Commission.

The original commission's authorization is set to expire July 1. Should the bill become law, a Type 1 transfer would be used to move the original commission to the new commission.

The new commission would be tasked with continuing the work the Southwest Chief commission has undertaken since its establishment in 2014, namely improving existing rail lines used by Amtrak and BNSF and extending rail lines between Pueblo and La Junta in order to eventually have Pueblo and Walsenburg linked to the Southwest Chief route, which runs from Chicago to Los Angeles.

The new commission would have 13 members, as opposed to the current 9. Five would be governor-appointees; five will be appointed by various metro planning organizations along the Front Range, and one would be appointed by the Regional Transportation District. The final two members, a CDOT employee and and Amtrak employee, would not be able to vote, but would sit on the commission and advise it.

Should the bill become law, the new commission would continue to be funded by grants, gifts and donations. Its members would not be paid for their work. Some would serve four years on the commission, and others would be limited to two years.

In addition to the Southwest Chief expansion, the commission would also be tasked with facilitating a plan to build a passenger rail line along the Front Range, which the bill says “may include” stops in Pueblo, Colorado Springs, Castle Rock, Denver, Boulder, Longmont, Loveland and Fort Collins.

The commission would have to present its plans for the proposed rail line to local government committees in both the state House and Senate by Dec. 1.

The bill passed the Senate Local Government committee by a 3-0 vote on Feb. 14 and cleared the Senate Finance Committee two days later by a 4-1 vote.

After three readings without amendments on the Senate floor, the bill passed the full Senate with a 24-11 vote Thursday morning. It now heads to the House.

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