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Vail by Rail, It May Be Around the Bend


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Vail, CO Mar. 22–All aboard! A $41 million commuter rail line connecting the Eagle County Regional Airport to Vail and Beaver Creek resorts may become a reality if the project receives federal transportation funding.

The project would include service from the airport, just west of Eagle, to Avon and possibly Vail, and would be the first of its kind in Colorado. A recreational trail system would run alongside the tracks.

“Some information has been passed on to some folks in Washington about a possible request for $41 million,” said Joe Tempel, Modal Programs Manager for the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT).

Twenty million of the $41 million would buy the entire rail line from Union Pacific and provide a half-mile link from the town of Eagle-Vail to the airport. The remaining funds would be used to purchase railroad equipment such as diesel engines and railcars. In addition, Tempel said that local government agencies would be asked to pay for operating expenses.

Union Pacific, which has yet to formally abandon the 165-mile rail line that extends through Eagle County, has not used the tracks for freight service in more than three years.

According to Tempel, the commuter train project could be up and running in one year, but will most likely take longer because of federal funding for other Colorado transit projects.

“It may take more like five years because the federal money we are seeking for the project is competing with money needed for projects in the Denver area,” Tempel explained. “It all depends on the Federal government and how they want to fund programs in Colorado. Do they want to fund them all at once or individually over several years?”

Although CDOT has hired a consultant to study the commuter rail project, a formal proposal to Congress for the funding has not yet been made.

“It’s kind of a loose idea,” Tempel added. “But there has been quite a bit of work put into it in terms of costs and rider numbers.”

Recently, Vail Resorts proposed a gondola linking the town of Avon with Bachelor Gulch and Beaver Creek. In the proposal, the gondola base would be located near the rail station, which could eliminate the need for bus service to the resort. Meanwhile, commuters would board shuttle busses near Eagle-Vail to continue on into Vail. However, the proposal also includes an eventual rail link into Vail as well.

These long-range plans also include the commuter line linking up with a proposed mass-transit service from Vail to Denver International Airport.

The Colorado Intermountain Fixed Guideway Group is proposing a $100 million pilot project linking the towns of Frisco and Dillon to voters in the November election.