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The historic San Luis & Rio Grande Railroad has been purchased at a bankruptcy auction by Colorado Pacific Railroad owner Stefan Soloviev. The deal includes the rail yard in Alamosa. (Courtesy Alamosa Citizen)

An eastern Colorado billionaire farmer and railroad operator is the highest bidder in the recently relaunched bankruptcy auction for the San Luis & Rio Grande Railroad

Stefan Soloviev’s Colorado Pacific Railroad, which serves many of his Crossroads Agriculture farms in southeastern Colorado, Kansas and New Mexico, bid $10.7 million Thursday for the historic railroad that connects the San Luis Valley with the national rail network in Huerfano County south of Pueblo. 

“I have a fiduciary duty and I always have to find a way to get the most money to creditors and I think this purchase price does that,” said William Brandt, the bankruptcy trustee tasked with selling the railroad owned by Iowa Pacific Holdings, which filed for bankruptcy protection last year. “This is a very successful outcome for everybody.”

Soloviev’s entrance into the San Luis Valley brings the agricultural community’s population of local billionaires to three. New York financier and renowned conservationist Louis Bacon owns about 172,000 acres spanning his Blanca and Trinchera ranches, with most of that land locked into an easement preventing any development. Houston’s William Harrison, heir to one of the largest oil fortunes in Texas, acquired the 83,000-acre Cielo Vista Ranch in 2017 after it was listed for sale for $105 million. 

And now comes Soloviev, son of the late New York City real estate developer and art collector Sheldon Solow, who died in 2020 after building a real estate empire worth a reported $4.4 billion. (Soloviev began using the original Russian spelling of his family’s name about a decade ago.)

Soloviev’s Crossroads Agriculture has amassed 400,000 acres of cropland and ranch land in southeastern Colorado, Kansas and New Mexico. His Colorado Pacific Railroad revived the 122-mile Towner Line in eastern Colorado, which connects his farms’ grain elevators with national rail lines east of Pueblo. 

Brandt last month reached a deal to sell the 155-mile San Luis & Rio Grande Railroad to Denver-based Omnitrax for $5.75 million. The railroad, transportation and real estate company would have counted the San Luis & Rio Grande as its 26th railroad. Company executives said last month they planned to focus on freight before addressing possible passenger traffic on the railroad. An Omnitrax executive declined to comment on Thursday.

A late bid from Soloviev’s KCVN, LLC, a holding company for all his businesses, reopened the bankruptcy sale process with a new auction held Thursday. (Calls and emails to Soloviev and his Texas-based attorney were not immediately returned Thursday.)

San Luis Valley Great Outdoors this month filed formal objections to the Omnitrax deal in bankruptcy court, arguing the railroad operator could hinder the group’s work toward developing a recreational trail in the valley. 

The proposed Heart of the Valley Trail would intersect with railroad rights of way, and the San Luis Valley Great Outdoors filing noted Omnitrax’s policy to not allow bicycle or pedestrian pathways on company property.

“Omnitrax will oppose condemnation proceedings aimed at recreational use of trackside property,” reads the company’s September 2022 “Public Projects Manual.” “Omnitrax’s policy is not to permit private or public parallel bicycle/pedestrian paths that come within the railroad’s right of way.”

Mick Daniel, the executive director of San Luis Valley Great Outdoors, said Colorado Pacific Railroad seems more inclined to work with local communities as trail plans unfold. His group in October received a $100,000 grant from the Colorado outdoor recreation office to begin planning for the Heart of the Valley Trail. 

“Overall I think this is what we wanted for the San Luis Valley,” Daniel said. “It was a bid that not only seems to answer all the railroad’s debtors, but Colorado Pacific seems pretty civic minded. This is the right move for the valley.”

Jason Blevins

The Colorado Sun — jason@coloradosun.com Email: jason@coloradosun.com Twitter: @jasonblevins