It was just one week into 2017, and already a happy crowd of Colorado snow-goers was celebrating the high point of the entire year: the triumphant return of the 56-mile passenger ski train from Denver to Winter Park.
Now improved and rebranded as the Winter Park Express, the ski train was mourned when it closed in 2009 after Union Station's extensive redevelopment rendered it impractical as a rail transportation hub. And it's no wonder the train was missed: Those headed for the slopes can waste half the day along the great car accordion known as I-70.
Now, at least for Winter Park, there's a railroad less traveled.
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In September 2014, a short editorial on page seven of the Colorado Rail Passengers Association (ColoRail) newsletter sparked the ski train service's eventual re-opening. ColoRail board member Bob Brewster wrote that Union Station's remodel had been completed, the infrastructure was already in place, it would be a boon to the hospitality and tourism industry, and "it could be the easiest, fastest, and least expensive [rail] service to inaugurate" overall.
"I honestly didn't think it would do anything other than just fill in some space in our newsletter and indicate to people what we had in mind by starting something small and affordable and doable," says Brewster, a longtime RTD employee.
Galvanized by Brewster's editorial, Amtrak Conductor Brad Swartzwelter drafted a business plan, which ColoRail submitted to Amtrak.
"Bob provided the spark, Brad provided the plan, along with [Winter Park Resorts CEO Gary DeFrange], then Gary carried the load," ColoRail President Jim Souby says. "He convened these meetings and was the numero uno guy up at Winter Park meeting with Amtrak and Union Pacific."
Although most of the needed infrastructure already existed, it would be wrong to view re-launching the ski train as a sure thing.
Two behemoth organizations--Union Pacific and Amtrak--a ski resort, CDOT, RTD, the city of Denver and the town of Winter Park had to get on the same page for WPE to happen. It received strong bipartisan political support and corporate sponsorship to boot. Without broad agreement about the service's merits, it would have failed, say those involved.
"The fact that all those disparate entities came together is amazing, but the fact that they came together so quickly is just unheard of and unbelievable," Winter Park spokesman Steve Hurlburt...