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Options considered for Creede to South Fork rail line

October 1, 1999

photo: an existing railway along the rio grande

The 22-mile former Denver & Rio Grande corridor is in south central Colorado just west of the San Luis Valley. It is a great prospect for a rail trail, being very scenic with much of it runing along the Rio Grande River. The Division of Wildlife manages some properties along the river, which is signed as Gold Medal waters.

There are some residential properties along the corridor near South Fork, including the Masonic Lodge area of homes. North of Wagon Wheel Gap are two large properties, the Wassen Ranch and the La Garita Ranch, which is largely in a conservation easement. Some of these landowners have expressed opposition to a trail or other uses.

A couple of miles of the corridor cross the National Forest and the railroad runs close to an existing USFS campground and river access area. the Forest Service has expressed support for a trail and related recreation, while the Colorado Division of Wildlife has expressed concerns over impacts to wildlifel of public use.

An individual, Don Shank of Durango, leads a non-profit railway historical society and has declared his intention to acquire the railroad and operate a tourist train from South Fork to Creede. He intends to rebuild the line as 3-foot narrow gauge; it is now standard gauge and all rails and ties would have to be replaced. Shank estimates a cost of $4 to 7 million. He has the support of the Alamosa Chamber of Commerce to raise funds to refurbish the steam locomotive now on display in Alamosa. Estimates to make the 1883 locomotive serviceable range from $150,000 to over $500,000.

Shank filed an Offer of Financial Assistance to acquire the railroad for continued operations. He has been negotiating with Union Pacific since April 1999 and has received extensions through October. If this acquisition is not consumated, the railroad could consider a sale to the state or local governments for trails or other public uses.

Colorado State Parks filed for railbanking in December of 1998 following Union Pacific's abandonment filing. This would buy time to consider all the options and to look at funding. UP has stated a price, or "net liquidation value," of about $770,000. The railbanking option would not be considered unless UP determines there is no bona fide offer to purchase the railroad for operations.

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