» Study would evaluate project linking Denver and El Paso.
The states of Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas will apply for a $5 million grant from the Federal Railroad Administration to study the revival of passenger rail along the Denver-El Paso corridor, via Santa Fe and Albuquerque. The study would consider potential operation speeds of between 110 and 200 mph, though no money would be provided for construction of the 720-mile corridor.
The states hope to leverage their regional connections to become the federal government’s eleventh “authorized” high-speed rail corridor, a status that has debatable importance but which potentially could mean expanded access to rail money in the future. The line is partially used by Amtrak trains running from Kansas City to Los Angeles, but the majority of the route has been abandoned by passenger rail.
Grants are being distributed through the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008, which provides a general backbone for high-speed rail investment by the federal government in the United States.
Interest in creating a new north-south line in the Southwest is reasonable; it would improve rail connections in a region where only east-west links are present. But the focus on a Denver-El Paso line, which, apart from Denver, connects relatively small cities, seems misplaced. Denver is closer to Salt Lake than it is to El Paso, and the two former metropolitan areas are far larger than the latter and would likely produce much higher travel demand. Improving the existing Amtrak service between those cities would be far simpler than reactivating 500 miles of rail, as is suggested by this proposal.
Meanwhile, the Southwest has two enormous metropolitan areas that remain isolated from the national rail network — Phoenix and Las Vegas. The DOT recently designated a Los Angeles-Las Vegas link officially, but a Las Vegas-Phoenix link would likely generate far more travel than the El Paso-Denver corridor illustrated above. But because we have no national high-speed rail plan designating corridors for investment and improvement, it’s difficult to argue that the El Paso line shouldn’t be studied. We must develop a rigorous and objective system by which to compare and then pinpoint corridors for funding.
This route should not be a major priority for interstate rail investment, especially since there are a number of corridors that are arguably far more valuable that have yet to be qualified as “authorized.” Routes between Austin and Houston, New York and Montréal, and Cleveland and Pittsburgh are not included in Washington’s official list of high-speed rail routes but they are well deserving of a place in the panoply of lines that are being considered for funding.