Choo-choo Chew on This: Colorado’s Browns Canyon Threatened by Oil Trains


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Paddlers taking to Colorado’s beloved Browns Canyon of the Arkansas could soon see the iconic wilderness whitewater run jeopardized by trains full of heavy crude oil and hazardous chemicals.

The trains would follow a currently unused track through the heart of Browns Canyon National Monument and the upper Arkansas River. As well as changing the run’s wilderness character, it would also open up the chance for disturbances such as oil and chemical spills.

American Whitewater is calling upon paddlers to help. “We have created a sign on letter to be submitted along with American Whitewater’s technical comments,”says AW’s Hattie Johnson, adding people can also file comments directly to the Surface Transportation Board.

Just before the end of the year, Colorado Midland and Pacific Railway filed a notice of exemption for lease and operations of the Tennessee Pass line that runs through the Arkansas Valley to Parkdale. The last trains rolled through the Arkansas Valley in 1997. Since that time, recreation use in the area has increased dramatically. When Browns Canyon was designated as a national monument in 2015, the intention was to preserve its recreational, scenic and natural values. “Restarting regular train traffic through the monument would negatively impact these values,”says Johnson. “If you take into account the potential for derailments – several accidents on the line played a role in the decision to stop use of the line in ‘97 – the threat of an oil spill in the Arkansas River makes this proposal unacceptable.”

The connection between Colorado Midland and Pacific Railway’s proposed rail line in Utah’s Uintah Basin and their recent confidential lease agreement to utilize the Tennessee Pass line has many questioning if the company would use the route along the Arkansas River to move heavy crude oil from northeast Utah to refineries along the Gulf Coast, she adds. After inking a deal with Union Pacific, Colorado Midland and Pacific Railway (CMPR) filed for an exemption with the federal Surface Transportation Board to avoid regulations required of new and heavy operations.

“CMPR’s exemption claims that they are, “leasing the line from UP for continued rail operations,” and that the transaction will not result in an increase of rail traffic,”Johnson maintains. “Both claims seem at best inaccurate for a line that hasn’t been in operation for 24 years. The exemption process CMPR filed under is clearly indicated for transactions that are “routine” and “non-controversial”.

To submit letters voicing concern, send to: Cynthia Brown, Chief, Section of Administration, Surface Transportation Board Office of Proceedings, 395 E Street, SW, Washington, DC 20423.

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