A $2.8 million study evaluating the feasibility of high-speed rail from Fort Collins to Pueblo has identified five potential routes that could carry more than 10 million passengers annually. The Colorado Department of Transportation and the Federal Railroad Administration launched the Interregional Connectivity Study (ICS), last spring.
ICS team members hope to build a startup system in the next 10 to 12 years to prove that the rest of the project would be profitable. The startup section would be the first step in completing the entire system by 2035.
The study’s purpose is to identify cost-effective technologies, alignments and station locations that would maximize ridership. The study also hopes to find ways to integrate high-speed rail with the existing Regional Transportation District system in the Denver-Boulder area. The cost for the high-speed rail system is estimated at $15 billion. FasTracks, RTD’s high-profile transit program in metro Denver, is building 122 miles of new commuter rail and light rail. This system also will include 18 miles of bus rapid transit and 21,000 parking spaces at rail and bus stations.
To maximize what has already been invested in mass transit, RTD has been working with CDOT to coordinate connection possibilities with the proposed high-speed rail system. The high-speed rail system would extend to the north and south ends of the urban corridor. FasTracks would stretch from Longmont to Lone Tree, while the proposed high-speed system would connect Fort Collins to Pueblo.
The ICS team proposed two routes for the northern end of the system connecting Denver to Fort Collins. One, a route along U.S. 287 was dropped in favor of an alignment alongside I-25. This route would avoid population centers and limit disturbance to those communities. In addition, the I-25 route would allow the train to travel at an estimated average speed of 147 miles per hour. The route along U.S. 287 only would have allowed the train to travel at an estimated average speed of 75 mph.
Preliminary financial projections from the ICS study show that the project would be feasible and profitable. The ICS team believes it will take $80 million to $100 million to start the project. However, financial projections suggest the high-speed rail would generate $197 million to $265 million per year in ticket revenue, depending on which of the five scenarios is selected.
Depending on the alignment chosen, projected annual ridership ranges from 10.8 million to 13.8 million. The heaviest number of riders is projected to come from the southern route, from Pueblo and Colorado Springs to Denver.
Despite some of the benefits and projected revenue associated with high-speed rail in Colorado, it may still be a challenge to fund the project. “I think a lot of people in the state want rail, but will they be willing to pay for it? The polling on these projects is often missing financial detail,” said Randy Grauberger, a senior transportation planning manager for Parsons Brinckerhoff, a New York-based planning, engineering and construction-management company.
The ICS study will conclude in September. The next step will be to identify how to move forward with the project and work toward building a startup model.