Breckenridge, Summit County consider resurrecting rail line
BRECKENRIDGE – Breckenridge and county planning staffers will scour maps and GPS data to determine if the two entities own enough rights of way between Breckenridge and Frisco to resurrect an old rail line that ran throughout Summit County 100 years ago.
Such a train could pave the way for light rail in the future, provide a tourist attraction – and possibly even a commuter system for workers – said County Commissioner Gary Lindstrom at a joint meeting of the town council and county commissioners Sept. 10.
“My vision would be that this would be a prototype,” he said. “Maybe a future project could go from Dillon to Keystone.”
Breckenridge already has the train. Town Manager Tim Gagen recently attended an auction and purchased an old steam locomotive similar to the one that runs in Georgetown. Until – and if – a rail bed line can be built between the two towns, town officials plan to put it at the Rotary Snowplow Park adjacent to the ice rink in Breckenridge. The locomotive is currently being restored.
Trains throughout history
In the 1800s, the federal government believed rail was the wave of the future and gave land to railroad companies, Lindstrom said. The only stipulation was that, if the railbed ever were abandoned, the railroad companies would have to forfeit the land back to the previous owners. Much of Summit County’s original railroad rights of ways are now owned by the county as a result of those forfeitures. Others, however, have been developed.
The town and county have numerous right of ways along Highway 9 between the two towns. And the revised White River National Forest Plan has a stipulation in it allowing some kind of transit on public land. There are numerous obstacles in the path to reality, however. The original train ran from Breckenridge to the old town of Dillon – now submerged under Lake Dillon. From there, the railroad branched east to Keystone and west to Frisco and Leadville. The grade between Frisco and Farmer’s Korner is far steeper than the one on which the original railbed was built, said County Commissioner Tom Long. And steel-wheeled engines can’t handle grades in excess of 7 percent.
There are other challenges, as well. Steam engines used to be fueled by coal, which releases dark plumes of smoke into the air. Today’s engines are more likely to be fueled by oil or diesel, both of which have their drawbacks. And there’s the smell and noise to consider, as well.
“Durango has its share of issues with the railroad: fire danger, noise, dirt … ” Long said. “I’d love to be the fireman and toot the horn, but I wonder if we might not be better served with something modern.”
According to Town Councilmember Larry Crispell, narrow-gauge engines can also operate on oil, recycled motor oil or biodiesel – a mixture of diesel fuel and a derivative of soybean or other vegetable oils.
“These things will run on just about anything,” he said. “It’s just a fire.” The county and town would have to have all the rights of ways to even consider building a railroad. Officials last week decided to direct their respective staffs to see how much right of ways they collectively have.
“Nine miles of right of way doesn’t do any good if you need 9.1 miles and you can’t get that last .1,” said County Commissioner Bill Wallace.
Lindstrom said he spent three hours recently exploring areas along the old right of ways as he could locate and access. He said he thinks the right of ways are there. Some are still visible, including one that ran along the old bikepath near Agape Outpost at Farmer’s Korner and an elevated section above Highway 91 near Copper Mountain.
“I’m not sure how far the idea, it’ll go,” he said. “But it’s enough of an opportunity to explore.”
Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 228 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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