Tuesday, November 22, 2011

State's Sale of Railroad Has Colorado's Citizens Fearing the Future

Eads, Colo. Sept 30, 1989 Photo: Jeff Van Cleve
There was a time, 25 years ago, when a long stretch of rail in eastern Colorado was a vital link for Rio Grande, connecting Pueblo to Kansas City via trackage rights that Rio Grande picked up when Rock Island fell into Union Pacific. Long before that, the Colorado Eagle brought countless passengers across the Kansas prairie to Pueblo Union Depot and up the Joint Line to Denver's Union Station using Rio Grande crews. The Missouri Pacific built 152 mile-route to Pueblo in 1887 as a means for Jay Gould to rival the Union Pacific.

Sugar City, Colo. Nov. 1956, 55 years ago this week
Photo: Jim Hinkhouse
The "Towner Line," an agricultural rail route connecting Pueblo with the eastern border town of Towner, Colorado has been sold by the State of Colorado to V&S Railway, LLC of Salt Lake City, Utah for $9.4 Million . As of December 1, 2011, V&S Railway can do what it wants with the line, including the option of scrapping the line for the estimated $30 Million of scrap steel. However, if that happens, Colorado's legislature would have the option to buy it back. It's an irony of steel.

Of significant concern is the closing paragraphs from the same Pueblo Chieftain article, dated yesterday,
Kiowa County Commission Dick Scott is adamant the state should step in before the rails come off the Towner Line. “I realize it’s difficult for (lawmakers) too, but if it comes to the point that V&S wanted to pull this rail out, I would urge everybody I could in the state Legislature to purchase that back,” Scott said. “It might not make economic sense right to begin with, but I think it will 15 or 20 years from now.”

Speaking on his cellphone as he drove down Colorado 96 parallel to the Towner Line, Scott described what he saw:

“I’m right now driving past a bunch of rail cars that are used to haul rails. It makes you wonder if they’re not just waiting to haul off those rails. It makes me suspicious.”
If the former Missouri Pacific line goes away, Colorado would lose much more than a railroad. It would lose taxes on freight, and agriculture customers might lose more than just a shipper. They may lose their businesses. Watco-owned Kansas and Oklahoma Railroad would lose its western connection, turning it into a spur. V&S has no motive to please any of these clients, and 20 million "motives" to burn them.

Combined with BNSFs desertion of its original transcontinental route over Raton Pass, southeastern Colorado could possibly face a coming decade worse than Great Depression era Dust Bowl disaster. The loss of infrastructure and possible replacement cost staggers the mind. This Coloradoan is wondering, "Why did we sell the line in the first place?"