CDOT explores market for passenger train cars and locomotives

News Release

December 1, 2023 - Statewide - Department of Transportation asks train manufacturers if they have rolling stock for a passenger rail line from Denver to Craig

Statewide — In a step that demonstrates its determination to pursue passenger rail service from Denver to Craig, the Colorado Department of Transportation has issued a call for manufacturers to show what train vehicles they have available for a mountain rail line.

The department has issued a “request for information” to train equipment manufacturers and vendors on what fleet options are available for rolling stock — otherwise known as train cars and locomotives. Companies have 45 days to respond.

CDOT’s request for information is not a solicitation for bids and is not meant to result in a contract or order for equipment. Rather, it is an effort to understand what rolling stock might be available for mountain rail service.

“Let’s get rolling to provide more transportation options for Coloradans and visitors who want to explore, live and work in our world-class mountain communities and local economies. I look forward to the results to help make convenient mountain rail a reality,” said Governor Jared Polis.

“This is an important first step to understanding what technology is on the market that could meet the needs of mountain conditions,” said CDOT Executive Director Shoshana Lew. “We’re interested in factors like cost, safety technology, reliability and the use of energy efficiency options and clean power.”

The vision for mountain rail became a real possibility in recent months because of developments that include dramatically decreased coal train traffic on Union Pacific rail lines, creating a new transit opportunity for Colorado and an opportunity for UP to host more passenger rail on its mountain lines. UP lines already serve the California Zephyr and Winter Park ski trains, but there is capacity for more passenger service, including from Denver to Steamboat Springs, Hayden and Craig.

The other major precipitating event was Congress making $66 billion for passenger rail available through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Because the Denver-to-Craig service would only require minimal track and safety improvements, CDOT is hoping that the mountain rail project would be an attractive candidate for federal funding.

Meanwhile, the Colorado Transportation Commission has approved $5 million in state funding for CDOT to study the mountain rail route as well as examine enhancing bus service statewide. This study will help CDOT determine how much ridership the line would have, how frequently trains should run, where stations should be and what operating and construction costs might look like.

The 191-mile Denver-to-Craig route has major advantages in that the rail line is already built and essentially would just need some safety and capacity improvements. This means major cost savings compared to a project where an entirely new rail line would be needed.

CDOT has asked train manufacturers to show whether they have locomotives and train cars that can handle the steep grades, high altitude and sometimes low temperatures of the Denver-to-Craig route. Train cars should carry 200 passengers and have "comfortable and upscale furnishings, including tables at facing seats and not more than 2x2 seat configuration."

Further, vendors should provide options for a lounge or cafe car and for wifi service.