Tennessee Pass Revival: It’s Complicated

Written by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor

Colorado, Midland & Pacific Railway Co. (CMP), a wholly owned subsidiary of Rio Grande Pacific Corp. (RGPC), has entered into an agreement to lease the majority (163.1 miles) of the Tennessee Pass rail line between Parkdale and Sage, Colo., from Union Pacific. The short line has also submitted a filing to the Surface Transportation Board for common-carrier authority to operate the line.

CMP will consider potential commuter rail service connecting Eagle, Lake, Chaffee and Fremont counties, as well as freight service originating or terminating on the line, according to RGPC. Rehabilitation of track and other infrastructure will be required before any service can begin. The railroad company also reported that there are no plans to operate trains carrying crude oil from Utah.

If there is community interest in passenger service, “CMP will assist public agencies in obtaining funding for establishing passenger rail services,” the company said. “CMP appreciates the state and local agency efforts already in progress to bring commuter rail services to the Tennessee Pass Line, and intends to work with transportation agencies, community groups, the state of Colorado, and the cities and counties served by the Tennessee Pass Line to evaluate the feasibility of commuter and passenger rail services.”

“We look forward to engaging in the transportation planning work already under way to determine how the Tennessee Pass Line might play a role,” CMP President Robert Bach said. “It’s exciting to bring this additional option to the table.”

Fort Worth, Tex.-based RGPC owns or operates freight and passenger railroads in eight states. Among them: the Nebraska Central Railroad Co.; New Orleans & Gulf Coast Railway Co., Railway Age’s 2016 Short Line Railroad of the Year; and Denton County Transportation Authority’s (DCTA) 21-mile “A” Train commuter rail service between Denton and Carrollton, Texas.

Rock & Rail (RRRR) operates freight service along 11.75 miles of the former UP Tennessee Pass route between Parkdale, Colo., and a connection with UP at Canon City, Colo. RRRR bought the line in 1998. It also acquired the former BNSF operations between Pueblo and Canon City, which consists mainly of trackage rights over UP between those stations.

Colorado Pacific: ‘Not So Fast

Colorado Pacific Railroad (CXR), a wholly owned subsidiary of KCVN, LLC, will reportedly challenge the CMP-UP agreement, according to online news site Real Vail. The site published a statement from Hayden Soloviev, Vice Chairman of New York-based Solow Building Co. and Crossroads Agriculture, the parent companies of Colorado Pacific Railroad, noting that the railroad would file a protest “on grounds that UP thereby maintains its monopoly stranglehold across the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, in defiance of concerns about the Tennessee Pass line stated by the STB in its decision in the 1996 UP-SP merger case. It appears that CXR should also request the reopening of that case, to enable Colorado’s competitive access to the national railroad network. Further, RGP has selected a business entity name deceptively similar to ours, in a purposeful effort to confuse the public. This is legally actionable and will not be tolerated.”

In March 2020, STB rejected without prejudice CXR’s filing of “a feeder line application under 49 U.S.C.§ 10907 for a forced sale of the Tennessee Pass Line.” Because the application “does not contain the information required under § 1151.3(a), the application will be rejected as incomplete,” STB said.


In November, The Gazette, a Colorado Springs, Colo.-based newspaper, reported that CXR “plans to go back to the U.S. Surface Transportation Board (STB) soon to show ‘public convenience and necessity’ on the line by offering daily passenger service from Pueblo to Minturn, an old rail town just off the back side of Vail.”

CXR already owns the 121.9-mile Towner Line, which runs between milepost 747.5 near Towner, Colo., and milepost 869.4 near NA Junction, Colo., and is operated by Kansas & Oklahoma Railroad. The Tennessee Pass Line is connected to the Towner Line by a 26-mile line of railroad jointly owned and operated by BNSF and UP.

UP Responds

UP responded to Railway Age’s inquiry about both the CMP-UP agreement and CXR’s objection to it:

“Union Pacific finalized an agreement allowing Colorado Midland & Pacific Railway Company (CMP) to operate rail service on a portion of the Tennessee Pass Line through Eagle, Lake, Chaffee and Fremont counties in Colorado. The proposed service does not interfere with Union Pacific operations, and Union Pacific supports CMP’s efforts to explore passenger and freight rail opportunities in these communities.

“Once Colorado Pacific (CXR) completes its interchange track near Boone, Colo. (just east of Pueblo), their grain shippers will have access to Union Pacific and BNSF rail lines, providing access to multiple West Coast routes that are faster and more fuel efficient than the Tennessee Pass Line. The Tennessee Pass Line crosses the Colorado Rockies at 10,220 feet, which is significantly higher than any point on other routes.”

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