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Train Operations in Eagle and Arkansas Corridors to Require Full Review (CO)

Posted: 03/25/2021
By: Kestrel Kunz

Photo: Kayakers on the Eagle River's Gilman Gorge, photo by Tom O'keefe

This morning, the federal Surface Transportation Board (STB) made a much-anticipated decision on the revival of the Tennessee Pass Rail Line - a 160-mile rail line that follows the Eagle and Arkansas Rivers between Sage and Parkdale, Colorado. The STB formally rejected Colorado, Midland and Pacific Railway’s (CMPR) request to be exempt from oversight and regulation of their proposed operation on the line, which would be leased under an agreement with Union Pacific. This decision comes nearly three months after CMPR filed a notice of exemption on December 31, 2020, as people were bringing in the new year. 


In response to CMPR’s notice of exemption for their lease and operation of Tennessee Pass, American Whitewater, our members, and many other organizations, counties, and municipalities filed in opposition to the request for exemption. American Whitewater’s comments argued that “any proposals to operate on the Tennessee Pass Line, including those from CMPR and Union Pacific Railroad Company (UP), should be reviewed with the greatest level of scrutiny by the STB and should be subject to the full environmental reporting requirements outlined in 49 CFR 1105”. The STB’s decision reflects just that. Colorado, Midland and Pacific and its parent company, Rio Grande Pacific Railroad, can still apply for authority to lease and operate the line but they will be subject to the full regulatory process and will be scrutinized for any potential impacts to the natural and human environment. 


American Whitewater firmly believes in due process when it comes to environmental regulations and we are very pleased to see this outcome. The now-dormant Tennessee Pass line is routed through numerous river and mountain oriented communities that place a high value on the recreational, ecological, cultural, scenic, historical, and other values that exist within these river corridors. Local communities make their livelihoods off of river recreation and outdoor tourism in the region. The public travels from throughout Colorado and across the country to visit the unique characteristics of the area like Browns Canyon National Monument which was recently designated in 2015. The Arkansas River alone sees over 40% of Colorado’s total commercial rafting days and contributes close to $100 million to the local economy. Ensuring that proposed operations on Tennessee Pass will receive full regulatory scrutiny is a big win for local communities, vibrant existing ecosystems, and river enthusiasts that live locally and travel from afar to enjoy the Eagle and Arkansas Rivers. 


Thank you to all those that submitted your own letters or signed on to American Whitewater’s letter to the Surface Transportation Board. We will continue to track future proposals from CMPR and will engage the paddling community if the time is ripe. 

Kestrel Kunz

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