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All aboard the Obama Express; Barack backs high-speed rail
The blogger's West Vail Webercam shows a barbie buried by a foot and half of new snow Friday. Loveland ski area and Echo Mountain are open till Sunday. A-Basin closes June 8.
By David O. Williams 

All aboard the Obama Express; Barack backs high-speed rail

By David O. Williams

May 2, 2008 —  The high-speed rail fan club, which in this country is pretty much limited to the Northeast corridor between New York and Washington, probably gained a few members the last couple of days in Colorado’s high country, which in places was nailed by up to a foot and half of new snow.

The early-May dose of January snarled Interstate 70 and continued a brutal winter and spring that has seen stretches of the highway shut down more than 70 times, including more than 20 closures of Vail Pass. Who wouldn’t want to hop a train between here and Denver?

Traffic gridlock during peak periods along I-70 in Colorado’s mountains has rekindled the concept of mountain mass transit in the form of some kind of high- or even lower-speed train between Denver and Grand Junction. And Colorado mountain rail proponents may have a backer in Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama.

All aboard the Obama Express; Barack backs high-speed rail
Hard to know exactly how much snow Vail got Thursday and Friday, but it looked like about a foot and a half on the blogger's front patio. That was backed up by the Loveland ski area snow report, which came in at 17 inches in the last 48 hours - and it was mid-January cold out to boot.
By David O. Williams 

According to Time’s “The Page – Politics up to the Minute” blog by Mark Halperin, Barack and Michelle Obama, campaigning ahead of the Indiana primary on Tuesday, visited the suburban Indianapolis home of Mike and Cheryl Fischer in Beech Grove on Friday. Mike Fischer, an Amtrak machinist, is facing a lay-off or possible move to another city to keep his job.

The blog reported Obama enthusiastically launched into the following endorsement of high-speed rail.

“The irony is with the gas prices what they are, we should be expanding rail service. One of the things I have been talking about for awhile is high-speed rail connecting all of these Midwest cities – Indianapolis, Chicago, Milwaukee, Detroit, St. Louis,” Obama said. “They are not that far away from each other. Because of how big of a hassle airlines are now. There are a lot of people if they had the choice, it takes you just about as much time if you had high-speed rail to go the airport, park, take your shoes off.”

The Page reported Obama kept talking up Amtrak:

“This is something that we should be talking about a lot more,” Obama said. “We are going to be having a lot of conversations this summer about gas prices. And it is a perfect time to start talking about why we don’t’ have better rail service. We are the only advanced country in the world that doesn’t have high-speed rail. We just don’t’ have it. And it works on the Northeast corridor. They would rather go from New York to Washington by train than they would by plane. It is a lot more reliable and it is a good way for us to start reducing how much gas we are using. It is a good story to tell.”

Check out the whole blog at

Also on the topic of trains, Roberto Moreno, who heads up Denver-based Alpino, an organization dedicated to promoting diversity in snow sports and increasing minority participation, posted this comment on the lack of statewide political will for mountain rail on my story on a possible transit solution for the I-70 corridor:

“When Clear Creek County Commissioner Harry Dale argues that ski companies such as Vail Resorts and Intrawest need to be a big part of the rail solution since they have in part contributed to I-70 congestion in the past decade through the sale of discounted season passes in the Front Range market, he is echoing constituent concerns from a growing ‘forest ambivalent’ electorate which is unwilling to spend the billions of dollars necessary to create a comprehensive mountain corridor solution; one that would include light rail,” Moreno wrote, referring readers to a recent guest column he wrote for the Denver Post:

Not sure if Barack is a skier or “forest ambivalent,” but he might like the idea of speeding through Colorado’s mountains on a high-speed Amtrak train.



Comment on article  3 Comments on "All aboard the Obama Express; Barack backs high-speed rail"


Greg Moffet, former Vail Town Councilman — May 3, 2008

Liked your piece on Barack and his trains. Here's the question no one asks, if trucks jack-knifing on the pass are a major contributing cause of I-70 congestion, why are the drivers of passenger vehicles (and the skicos) always the scapegoats on the congestion issue? In reality, there is more congestion in the summer when, presumably, no one is coming up to take advantage of discounted ski passes. Moreover, the ski towns sit pretty empty almost all summer despite the years highest traffic counts at the tunnel.
The elephant in the room on this issue is that the Trucking Lobby (initial capitalized) is probably the most influential lobby in the state. Hence, no one is allowed to mention a solution that involves burdening trucking in any way (this is one of the reasons I grew very frustrated w/ the I-70 Corridor Coalition), it's "off the table". The simplest, and lowest cost, solution to the weekend congestion might just be imposing a toll on through truckers during the weekend. It would certainly be an inexpensive project to pilot, the trucks already have to stop to get weighed .
By some accounts truck through-traffic has increased by 15% A YEAR since Glenwood Canyon opened in 1996. The state population hasn't grown that fast. If our elected officials had the fortitude (I'm NOT holding my breath) to stand up to the Trucking Lobby and try this out, practically dis-incenting truckers for using the I-70 corridor during the high congestion and bad weather periods, we might get a very inexpensive solution that doesn't require finding billions and billions of dollars to build trains that people up here will never board more than once (seriously, you take the train to Lakewood, get off at the station and ... rent a car?). Just some grist for the mill.


David O. — May 3, 2008

I'm a different travel animal than you. I think destination tourists already more inclined to use trains would fly into Eagle or DIA and ride to their resort of choice and cab it or take advantage of the amazing free bus system in Vail - huge global advantage for tourism winter and summer. I agree on the trucking lobby, though. Kudos to Dan Gibbs and other state lawmakers who did increase fines for failing to chain up. That needs to be taken to another level. The I-70 Coalition meeting that resulted in getting rail back on the list of preferred alternatives did fly in the face of the trucking lobby to some degree by getting CDOT to table widening through Idaho Springs and Georgetown until 2025 to see if rail was on track and could make a difference by then. My experiences traveling around Europe by train with my family, from the ski resorts of Austria to Venice in one short, very relaxing day (bottle of wine at our side the whole time), have convinced me that Colorado's ski industry could guarantee its dominance in the winter sports world for the rest of the century (or until global warming makes it a moot point) by going the rail route. And the Euros fund it with huge gas taxes that I agree will make prices soar even higher, but if a crumbling interstate highway system and inevitable gridlock are the alternative, aren't we headed there anyway?


Bob Berwyn — May 4, 2008

Hi Dave, interesting thoughts on transit, and great to see some intelligent, useful comments. An informed dialogue about this issue is critical.

I like your response about how a commitment to transit could solidify the state ski industry’s leading position in the market. I agree. I think the time will come sooner than we think that driving 70 miles for recreation will seem absurd, based on the price of gas. Starting work on a train now will seem like a smart investment 20 years from now.

By the way, good work all season long. I’ve been reading RV about once a week and definitely feeling a touch of the old Vail Trail vibe every now and then. Great chronicle of the season.



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