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Steamboat Magazine

Operation All Aboard

03/05/2024 04:48PM ● By Deb Olsen
(Photo: The Rio Grande train stops in Steamboat Springs. This was a special excursion train that brought spectators up from Denver for Winter Carnival in 1959. Courtesy of Tread of Pioneers Museum.)

Steamboat Springs, CO -
Imagine sipping on a glass of wine, snacking on cheese and crusty bread, and relaxing after a long day of skiing – all while being whisked safely back to Denver at the end of a weekend in Steamboat Springs.

Or imagine sharing a quiet moment with your significant other as you gaze at the glorious mountain scenery en route from your home in Steamboat to Denver for a weekend of shopping and maybe a concert or a ballgame.

For me, those seem like impossible dreams. As it stands now, I avoid traveling to the Front Range on the weekend at all costs. Even on weekdays, weather and wildlife are major concerns. We all have hair-raising stories of the treacherous highway. I remember one time successfully completing a slalom course through cars and trucks that were slipping and sliding down Floyd Hill in a blizzard. I made it unscathed, but more than 50 vehicles crashed all around me. It was just blind luck that let me arrive at our hotel in Denver eight hours after I left Steamboat – still intact, but badly shaken.

Most of us have road trip playlists on Spotify and books loaded onto Audible to help us while away the time when we are stuck in stop-and-go traffic on the overcrowded stretch of interstate between Silverthorne to Denver. I once sat in traffic on the way up to Eisenhower Tunnel for so long that I listened to an entire book before we started moving again.

It wasn’t that long ago that a much more pleasant option existed: until 1968, passenger trains ran daily between Craig and Denver. Locals still remember riding the rail, picnic lunches in tow. Talk about restoring rail service to Steamboat is not new; it’s been an ongoing topic of discussion since I moved to the Yampa Valley 40 years ago, and probably longer.

But now, with a $5 million incentive from the feds to study rail options, the idea has gained momentum. With coal plants scheduled to be shut down in the next few years in both Craig and Hayden, the rail line will see much less freight traffic, and could potentially be made available for passenger service.

The cost would not be cheap to make this dream a reality. Some estimates range in the tens of billions, but every day we wait, that cost escalates dramatically. And soon, I-70 will be completely gridlocked, with nowhere to expand.

Even though we are planning for the return of rail service today, it might not happen in my lifetime, but what a wonderful experience could await future generations. It’s nice to see light at the end of the tunnel – Moffat Tunnel, that is.

All aboard!
Deborah Olsen, President, Ski Town Media