A long-awaited effort to extend an Amtrak line that runs through southeast Colorado could include adding a station in Colorado Springs.
State and local officials have applied for a federal grant to study what it would take to establish a new branch of the Southwest Chief with stops in Pueblo and Colorado Springs.
For years, rail advocates have been rooting for a Pueblo station on the line, which provides daily service between Chicago and Los Angeles. The line enters Colorado from Kansas and passes through Colorado’s southeast corner with stops in Lamar, La Junta and Trinidad before heading south to New Mexico.
“This is really the first formal step to include Colorado Springs as part of this discussion,” said Sal Pace, a former Pueblo County commissioner and state legislator.
The new branch would begin at La Junta and provide service to Pueblo and Colorado Springs, according to a grant application submitted last month by the Colorado Department of Transportation and Front Range Southwest Chief & Passenger Rail Commission.
The feasibility study would estimate how much the extension would cost, assess existing infrastructure, forecast fare revenues, and explore possible station locations and operational scenarios, the application says.
CDOT and the rail commission requested $225,000 from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements program. That initiative will award roughly $250 million this funding round to freight or passenger rail projects, according to a notice from the Federal Railroad Administration.
The grant would cover half of the $450,000 cost of the study. The rail commission would provide another $159,000, and CDOT would pitch in $50,000. Pueblo County, La Junta, and the Colorado Rail Passenger Association would pay for the rest, the application says.
U.S. DOT isn’t expected to announce the winners for at least three months, said the state rail commission’s project director, Randy Grauberger.
Proponents say the two new stops could significantly boost ridership for the Southwest Chief, which has seen revenues fall in recent years. The line served about 330,000 passengers in Fiscal Year 2018, compared to about 355,000 in Fiscal Year 2012. A 2016 Amtrak study found that adding a Pueblo stop could attract 14,000 new riders annually, generating another $1.45 million in ticket sales.
Under the proposed model, several westbound rail cars would detach at La Junta and join another locomotive that would visit Pueblo and Colorado Springs before returning to La Junta to rejoin the Southwest chief. The locomotive on the new branch would make one round trip per day, the grant application says.
“What this means for Colorado Springs and Pueblo and southern Colorado is economic opportunities and connectivity to the national rail service across the country,” said Pace.
He serves on the rail commission, which originated in 2014 to rehabilitate more than 100 miles of dilapidated track on the Southwest Chief route and consider the extension to Pueblo.
The commission was renamed in 2017 and given another goal: explore options for bringing passenger rail service to the Front Range. It’s now studying how to build a system that would stretch from Pueblo to Fort Collins.
The proposed new branch of the Southwest Chief would be designed so that it could potentially connect to a Front Range passenger rail system in the future, according to the grant application.