By Conor McCue

DENVER (CBS4) – There is a renewed push to get passenger train service from Cheyenne, Wyoming, to Pueblo. On Tuesday, members of Colorado’s Front Range Commission met with Amtrak’s president and CEO to talk about their vision for rail service.

Just last week, Amtrak released a map showing the proposed new service across the U.S. It included a line from Cheyenne, Wyoming to Pueblo with stops in Fort Collins, Denver, and Colorado Springs.

(credit: CBS)

“We really think there’s lots of great momentum growing for passenger rail investment for all the obvious reasons – it just makes sense with a nation our size, with a growing population,” said Stephen Gardner, Amtrak President. “We’ve added 120 million people to the United States since Amtrak was formed 50 years ago, but if you look at our network, it’s almost exactly the same.”

During Monday’s media roundtable, which included Amtrak, members of the Southwest Chief & Front Range Passenger Rail Commission, and other regional leaders, Amtrak President Stephen Gardner said about 85% of Colorado’s population lives along the corridor.

“Places like the Front Range is where America is growing, and that’s where we need to be to provide important service,” Gardner said.

Amtrak’s proposal comes as President Biden is proposing a $2 trillion infrastructure bill, which includes $80 billion to improve and expand rail services.

“With more money we can go faster and do more, so we hope that that’s part of the plan, but we will continue to work at this regardless,” said Sal Pace, Front Range Commission Vice Chair.

Gardner called the possible funding in the bill “very important” and “very timely,” but said state-supported serviced services are not contingent on one piece of legislation.

Amtrak officials said they plan to partner with Colorado and Wyoming to figure out the path of development moving forward. The company will work with the commission to determine the level of service and infrastructure investment required.

“Together we think we can bring real value to communities and find the local support necessary,” he said.

The level of financial support could also be left up to voters, if a new bill introduced in the State Senate becomes law.

(credit: Amtrak)

Senate Bill 238 would create a new Front Range passenger rail district aimed at “planning, designing, developing, financing, constructing, operating, and maintaining an interconnected passenger rail system along the front range.” If passed, the board of directors for the district could ask voters to raise sales taxes to fund the train.

2019 survey run by RBI Strategies and Magellan Strategies found 81% of respondents support a Front Range rail service and 61% support a tax increase to fund it.

“Passenger rail service, believe it or not, polled better than highways in Colorado, and I think part of it is it’s tangible,” said Pace. “It’s something you can understand and see.”

Amtrak hopes to put in the extended rail network by 2035. Pace estimated the area could see some service in a little more than a decade.

Either way, he and fellow commission member Jill Gaebler agreed that the area and its leaders must think differently about travel.

“Virtually everyone agrees that the trip time needs to compete with automobiles, and if we’re going to make this type of investment, we need to make it really worthwhile, so it is a true alternative to getting in your vehicle,” Pace said.

Conor McCue