FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

BACKGROUND

What is Front Range Passenger Rail (FRPR) and why is it necessary?


Interstate 25 is heavily congested all along the Front Range, where 85 percent of the state’s population lives, and Colorado cannot simply build its way out of congestion. We must provide other options to Coloradans besides simply driving. More states are increasingly turning to intercity passenger rail as a way to transport people without adding to highway congestion or increasing greenhouse gas emissions. Front Range Passenger Rail would provide a travel mode from Pueblo to Fort Collins that would be competitive with automobiles and connect major populations and employment centers.




Why have train service instead of just using buses?


As the population grows, and I-25 becomes more congested, buses could easily become trapped in traffic. Buses move fewer people per vehicle, and are subject to more delays due to weather and traffic accidents. Unlike buses, trains run on rail, so they don’t get stuck in traffic, and can run in all weather conditions. A snowstorm that closes I-25 on Monument Hill would have less of an effect, if any, on train service. Additionally, trains provide a smoother ride and can potentially have amenities such as cafe cars with food and beverage service and provide a more pleasant travel experience. Trains also can travel faster than buses, with proposed speeds in the 90 mph to 125 mph range. Finally, train stations have the potential to spur economic development in a way that bus stations do not.




What is the Front Range Passenger Rail vision?


Developing passenger rail that serves Front Range communities from Fort Collins to Pueblo is a critical component of Colorado’s transportation and environmental future. Front Range Passenger Rail (FRPR) will provide a safe, efficient, and reliable transportation option for travel between major population centers and destinations along the Front Range, and create a backbone for connecting and expanding rail and transit options in the state and region. It will also help reduce emissions along the Front Range by resulting in fewer vehicle miles driven and more people traveling efficiently.





OPERATIONS

What technologies is FRPR going to use?


FRPR will consider existing, proven rail technologies that are authorized to operate within a freight corridor. For a potential start service, this could be a diesel locomotive pulling passenger cars: technology that still produces far fewer emissions per passenger mile traveled than automobiles. This train system could travel at maximum speeds of up to 125 mph. As technologies such as diesel-electric, hybrid, dual mode, and battery-electric locomotive platforms develop, there will be opportunities to transition to more efficient and lower emissions-producing equipment.




Who will operate the train service?


Passenger rail systems around the country have different operators. These vary from Amtrak, Host Railroads (BNSF or Union Pacific), or private operators. An operator for Front Range Passenger Rail service will be identified as part of the upcoming planning process. Amtrak has identified the Front Range corridor as one on its short list of priorities for expansion.




Is there demand for intercity rail in Colorado?


Yes, transportation modeling estimates there would be healthy commuter ridership. Projections vary depending on frequency and fares. For example, CDOT forecasts that annual ridership in 2045 could be as much as 2.6 million riders. This long-term vision assumes a train that can go as fast as 125 mph while serving nine primary stations between the Pueblo-to-Fort Collins route. This scenario also projects 24 daily trips with fares averaging 32 cents per mile (current dollars). Meanwhile, a more immediate starter system serving a segment of the corridor with nominal daily trips might see about 310,000 riders annually. This forecast presumes only modest improvements to the existing freight railroad tracks, which would limit passenger train service to no faster than 90 mph.




Where will the rail line go?


Legislation creating the Front Range Passenger Rail District calls for passenger rail service between Pueblo and Fort Collins, serving major population centers in between. The rail commission indicated a preference for the westernmost proposed alignment that runs along BNSF right-of-way, going from Castle Rock through Littleton, Denver, Boulder, Longmont and Loveland, terminating on the west side of Fort Collins. A final determination on routes will be made as a part of the federal decision-making process. The backbone system provides opportunities to expand north and south, as well as in-between by including additional stops along the backbone and integration with existing and planned east-west local transit services. Map of rail lines




Where will stations be located?


Stations serving larger population and employment areas (primary stations) have been preliminarily identified at:

  • Fort Collins
  • Loveland
  • Longmont
  • Boulder
  • Denver Union Station
  • Littleton
  • Castle Rock
  • Colorado Springs
  • Pueblo
Some additional secondary stations will also be considered where trains may stop on a more limited basis. These secondary stations could also include special event-only stations or other flexible or limited service options to match when demand is present. The upcoming service development plan will conduct a market analysis and confirm optimal location for primary and secondary locations for a starter service.




Will this go to Denver Union Station?


Current alignment options being analyzed include routes that serve Denver Union Station, the transportation hub of the Denver Metro area.




Will this go to Denver International Airport?


The long-term vision considers a corridor that does serve the airport. However, the rail commission has expressed a preference for a route that would instead run around the west side of the metro area through Littleton, Denver Union Station, Boulder, Longmont and Loveland before terminating on the west end of Fort Collins. This route would allow for passengers to transfer to and from RTD trains at Union Station. The Colorado legislature reiterated the preference for the same alignment in SB 21-238. A final determination on routes will be made as a part of the federal decision-making process.




How much will tickets cost?


A proposed fare structure has not been included in the analysis at this time. This will be an element of the upcoming preliminary rail passenger service development planning effort. It will also be a policy decision for the incoming Front Range Passenger Rail District board of directors.




Will there be ticket discounts for seniors, disabled and low-income?


A proposed fare structure has not been included in our analysis as of yet. It will be a policy question for the incoming rail district board. It is likely that fare structure and plans could include discounted tickets for students, seniors, persons with disabilities, and lower income populations, as well as multi-ride passes and monthly or annual passes providing a discount compared with single-way tickets.




When will the train be operating?


This is contingent on continuing with the current study, developing a viable system, and identifying a sustainable funding source. The phase beyond the 2021 planning effort would be to conduct a more comprehensive National Environmental Policy Act study. Funding for this effort has yet to be identified. If the project is approved and funded, it could then move into final design and then construction.




Will FRPR connect with Amtrak’s California Zephyr and Southwest Chief?


Connections with Amtrak’s California Zephyr would be possible at Denver Union Station. Although not a part of Amtrak’s national network vision, the rail commission is currently analyzing the potential to extend service on the Southwest Chief to Pueblo, where passengers could connect with Front Range rail.




Will FRPR connect with RTD?


Yes, the FRPR system will interconnect with RTD as well as the other local transit agencies along the Front Range.




What are the plans for first- and final-mile connectivity?


Specifics of the connectivity between FRPR and the local transit systems will be finalized as a part of the future planning. Connectivity is essential to attracting ridership to FRPR. Many of the connectivity issues will be determined by the local transit services within the various cities/communities served by FRPR. The evolution of ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft will be expected to play a role in providing effective connectivity. FRPR will work collaboratively with transit services and private companies to make this happen.




How fast will Front Range Passenger Rail trains go?


We are looking at maximum train speeds ranging from 90-125 mph. Speeds in individual areas would be contingent on surrounding development and conditions, including proximity to stations, grades, and curvature of the tracks.




How long will the whole trip from Pueblo to Fort Collins take?


The length of the trip will be determined based on several factors, including the speed of the trains, number of stops at stations, interoperations with freight trains, and time spent in stations waiting for passengers to board and disembark. These specifics of the service will be finalized in the future Rail Passenger Service Development Plan. It is the goal to develop a system which provides a competitive travel time with automobile or bus travel. Today, that trip takes over three hours. We should note, however, that ridership modeling shows most passengers using Front Range Passenger Rail would not travel the entire length of it.




How often will train service run?


Detailed operating schedules will not be developed until a future Rail Passenger Service Development Plan is completed. Similar passenger rail services around the country normally have more frequent service in the morning and evening peak hours for commuters. An additional train would likely operate in the late evening to provide service to special events.




How much noise will the train create and will there be quiet zones where trains don’t blow their horns?


Passenger trains are relatively short, with five to seven cars and one locomotive. With the higher speed, these trains would only block crossings for an amount of time similar to a typical red light cycle at a stop light. Passenger locomotives and cars tend to be much quieter and shorter than freight trains. With quiet zones established at grade crossings, locomotive horns should rarely be heard along the corridor. Additionally, the track will be welded rail, so there won’t be the click-clack noise of trains rolling over jointed tracks. Since trains will be shorter and will move faster, train noise would be brief.




How do we address rider safety, including safety at grade crossings? Are we going to grade separate roadway crossings?


All rolling stock (cars and locomotives) would meet the latest Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) regulations that dictate the safety of passenger trains. These standards include strengthened car bodies, emergency exits, passenger emergency telephones/intercoms, and more state-of-the-art train signaling systems. Rail/highway grade crossings would be designed to meet or exceed federal and state standards, specifically to meet the higher standards needed for a quiet zone. This includes four-quadrant gates, barriers, additional lighting and signage, and additional effort to make sure safety for both road users and pedestrians is maximized. Additional grade separations where not currently present are unlikely, but the design team will work with local communities and regional traffic engineers to determine if grade-separated structures are needed.




With higher speed trains, how do we keep people safe along the right-of-way?


In urbanized areas, the right of way will be fenced to keep people off the tracks. In rural areas, fencing would be similar to other property boundary fences with signage to keep people alert to the hazard. Rural fencing would be designed to allow wildlife to pass without impairment.





GOVERNANCE

Who is developing Front Range Passenger Rail?


Since 2018, the Southwest Chief and Front Range Passenger Rail Commission has been charged with advancing the feasibility of a new passenger rail system. The project team doing the pre-engineering and pre-environmental work is led by Southwest Chief and Front Range Passenger Rail Commission staff and dedicated CDOT staff. Because of a law passed in the 2021 legislative session, there will be a new Front Range Passenger Rail District. This entity will have the power to ask voters to approve a sales tax to construct and operate the rail line. The members of the new district board of directors are to be appointed in 2022 with the body’s first meeting taking place in May 2022. The existing rail commission will dissolve in 2022 with the creation of the new rail district.




What is the Southwest Chief and Front Range Passenger Rail Commission?


Created by the legislature in 2017, the Southwest Chief and Front Range Passenger Rail Commission has 11 voting members, five of whom represent railroads, passenger rail advocates, and counties in southern Colorado. Six other voting members represent the metropolitan planning organizations along the Front Range and RTD. Three additional non-voting members represent CDOT, Amtrak, and the city of Cheyenne, Wyoming.




How is the Passenger Rail Commission funded?


In 2018, the Colorado legislature approved $2.5 million to fund the Southwest Chief and Front Range Passenger Rail Commission, including two years of staffing and consultant work that included stakeholder engagement, a preliminary alternatives analysis, and pre-NEPA planning. The rail commission received another $2.5 million from the 2021 Colorado legislative session; funding that will roll over to the new Front Range Rail District. To learn more, visit the website: https://www.codot.gov/about/southwest-chief-commission-front-range-passenger-rail




What is the Front Range Passenger Rail district?


A law passed in 2021, SB21-238, creates a Front Range Passenger Rail District extending through 13 counties along the Front Range from the Wyoming state line to the New Mexico border. The law also enables the creation of a 15-member board to plan, develop, and construct Front Range Passenger Rail, which can include asking district voters to approve up to a 0.8% sales and use tax to fund development and operation of the train service.





FUNDING

How much will it cost?


Preliminary cost estimates have been developed based on this early planning and conceptual design. For an initial service with a projected seven trains per day, and not yet serving the entire Pueblo to Fort Collins corridor, the cost range is an estimated $1 billion to $2.5 billion in 2020 dollars. For a full future buildout (2045), double track, exclusive right of way, and 24 round trips per day, the cost estimates are in the $9 billion to $14 billion range.




Who is going to pay for Front Range Passenger Rail?


It is likely that multiple sources (federal, state and local) will be needed to fund Front Range Passenger Rail. However, the sources and shares of the funding/financing will be recommended as part of the federally required NEPA planning process. SB21-238, signed into law in 2021, creates a Front Range Passenger Rail district and allows that district to ask voters to approve up to a 0.8% sales tax increase to help fund the rail service. Additionally, Amtrak is hoping to receive new federal funding for expansion corridors that would allow it to operate systems such as Front Range Passenger Rail. Finally, there would also be fares to generate revenue.




Is FRPR going to generate revenue?


Yes, passenger fares, advertising, and other potential opportunities would be considered revenue streams for projects such as this.





STAKEHOLDER ENGAGEMENT

What are the next steps for developing Front Range Passenger Rail?


The next step is to initiate a formal federal decision making process. This includes a preliminary Service Development Plan and an Alternatives Analysis. These tasks will evaluate reasonable options for intercity passenger rail and further define a viable project. At that point, Colorado will be ready to enter into the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, process, which will initiate a comprehensive review of impacts on the environment and communities along the rail corridor. At the same point in time, the state can complete a Rail Passenger Service Development Plan and an Environmental Impact Statement.




How can communities and stakeholders get involved?


Coloradans along the Front Range have been able to give their input through multiple processes, including surveys and public meetings. We’ll hold many more of these discussions as the project moves forward. State and federal law require that all communities affected by a project are provided an opportunity to participate and give input. You can reach us directly at: Info@frontrangepassengerrail.com You can find additional project information here: frontrangepassengerrail.com