(The following is a guest submission by RTD District I candidate Jeff Ilseman)
I love a good train ride, especially if it is also fast and cheap. I grew up near the end of the BNSF line coming out of Chicago’s Union Station. It was built in the 1860s, during the Civil War, when Lincoln was president, and decades before automobiles were invented. How ironic it is that I retired near the end of a “planned” BNSF line coming out of Denver’s Union Station, to be completed in the 2040s.
Having lived in Europe for five years and having traveled the Far East extensively on business during my career, I could wax nostalgic all day long about train rides that I have taken, about riding the train across Australia, about taking the midnight train to Berlin through communist East Germany while in the service of my country, and about commuting through the busiest train station in the world, Tokyo’s Shinjuku Station, with an average of 3.6 million passengers per day (almost six times the population of Denver). However, reminiscing about the past does not change the present reality about RTD’s planned Northwest Rail Line.
In 2004 voters approved FasTracks, which increased our RTD sales tax from 0.6 percent to a full 1 percent. The information and estimates regarding the NW Rail Line were critical in convincing voters to pass the tax hike. Let’s analyze the planned NW Rail Line based on RTD’s April 2012 report to the Denver Regional Council of Governments.
First and foremost, the planned NW Rail Line will be diesel-fueled heavy commuter trains, not light rail. Even after double tracking, the commuter trains will share the tracks with the diesel-fueled heavy freight trains that we see stopping traffic every day (by the way, the diesel-powered locomotive was first operated 100 years ago this summer). The commuter train will stop traffic at 42 road crossings between Longmont and Denver. The planned 55 trips a day will result in 2,310 additional crossings and stoppages of traffic every day. More than 1,400 will be in Boulder and Broomfield counties, and 165 will be in Longmont. In addition to causing congestion and wasting people’s time while they sit in idling automobiles, immeasurable amounts of additional pollution will be released into the air you breathe, at least 9,240 additional train whistles per day will blow at the decibels of a jack hammer, and additional collisions will occur, possibly resulting in injuries and/or deaths. The planned Northwest Rail Line will not be good.
Second, the commuter trains will not only be slowing for the above-mentioned crossings but will also stop at 10 to 13 stations as they zigzag through Boulder, Broomfield, Jefferson, Adams and Denver counties. RTD’s April 2012 report says that a one-way trip will take over an hour. Given that commuter rail trains are required to pull over and wait for freight trains to pass, the ride will probably be closer to 2 hours. In any case, the trains won’t even start crawling and meandering between Denver and Broomfield and Boulder and Longmont for another 30 years, which is at least 25 years behind what voters were told in 2004. The planned Northwest Rail Line will not be fast, neither the ride itself nor the delivery of the system.
Third, the NW Rail Line is now predicted to cost more than twice what voters were told in 2004. The planned line will not be cheap.
To be politically direct, the conclusion is that the planned Northwest Rail Line will be neither good nor fast nor cheap. I believe that this conclusion is consistent with what the current RTD staff and board members, to their credit, have been trying to tell us.
Having discussed the Northwest Rail Line issues with RTD staff and board members at numerous public meetings, I have observed the “grief” that RTD has caught from constituents who themselves are going through the denial, anger and negotiation stages of grief.
Where do we go from here? Well, that’s an article for future publication. Stay tuned!