Greetings from Steamboat Springs.

As I write this, a fresh layer of snow is blanketing the hills. There’s a soft glow of sunrise and a fine rim of frost on the windows. It feels like the official start of winter. 

There’s also a sense of peace and quiet outside, in part because the railroad tracks across the river are mostly empty. There hasn’t been a train in days now that the coal mine downriver is closing operations. If all goes well, this might change.

Talk of a new passenger rail from Denver to Yampa Valley seems to have locals abuzz. Much of the chatter exudes excitement with local officials expressing hopes for improved access, affordability and tourism.

But so far, not much is publicly known about the idea, just that Colorado’s Department of Transportation is allocating $5 million toward feasibility studies for the possible new line. We also know that CDOT will be working with local communities and stakeholders during the upcoming assessments, and that stops along the way might include Winter Park, Kremmling, Bond and Steamboat Springs.

As a potential rider, I have some ideas about what I’d want, and I’m guessing you do, too. Given nothing is set in stone as of yet, it seems now is the perfect time for public input. So here goes. I’ll share a few of my initial ideas, and hopefully, you’ll share yours, too.

First, public transit is most effective and utilized when a variety of needs are met, so I would hope that any potential railway would offer an abundance of schedules and services. In my book, this includes both nonstop and layover routes to allow the flexibility of traveling either directly to Steamboat Springs or to access stops along the way.

Similarly, I hope CDOT’s feasibility studies include the possibility of a stop directly east of the Front Range foothills. I haven’t seen this mentioned in the initial news release, but a stop that better services the areas of Golden and Boulder would likely increase train use dramatically for Coloradans who live too far west of the Denver access point. This would also help reduce traffic on I-70, particularly during ski season.

Second, to encourage use, I would hope the passenger rail would offer full modern services. To me, this includes bike and ski storage, e-bike chargers, free internet access, easy bike and bus options from transit centers, affordable and safe long-term parking with EV chargers, healthy drinks and snacks, private cell phone booths, nursing spaces, foldable tables and charging outlets with USB ports and so on. These aren’t for vanity; they’re for function. Such amenities allow travelers the incentives to convert from driving more easily.

Third, environmental responsibility must be a priority. From how the train is powered to where and how often it runs, a focus on mitigating climate change and preserving natural spaces as much as possible is key.

Fourth, transit fares for locals must be affordable. Just as state residents get a discount on services such as state parks, Coloradans should be able to get discounted fares on public train access, especially for a work commute. A simple guide might be that for locals, it shouldn’t cost more to take public transit than to drive. 

Lastly, I hope that if we do get a mountain rail to Yampa Valley we make it fun. For example, perhaps during Steamboat Springs’ annual strings festival, local musicians could play a mini-concert on board. Or perhaps we offer history tours via headphones or commission local artists to create works along the route. Heck, we could even employ Colorado’s Sasquatch to sit and wave to onlookers. Really, it could be almost anything so long as it gives our state something unique to talk about.

These are just a few ideas that come to mind for me in my own excitement of what might come. So what would you hope for in a new passenger train? And would you ride it? Why or why not? 

Trish Zornio is a scientist, lecturer and writer who has worked at some of the nation’s top universities and hospitals. She’s an avid rock climber and was a 2020 candidate for the U.S. Senate in Colorado. Trish can be found on Twitter @trish_zornio

Trish Zornio

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Trish Zornio is a scientist, lecturer and writer who has worked at some of the nation’s top universities and hospitals. She’s an avid rock climber and was a 2020 candidate for the U.S. Senate in Colorado. Trish can be found on Twitter @trish_zornio