Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Light Rail in Fort Collins: First Step: Expand the Trolley


Expand eastern end of the Fort Collins Municipal Railway trolley line to Downtown Transit Center, the new Discovery Science Center, and The Farm at Lee Martinez Park using the abandoned BNSF tracks between Mason and Sherwood streets.


Fort Collins continues to win recognition for the quality of life in our community. If our community wishes to continue to be an award winning community, additional quality of life investments must be made. Connecting the eastern end of the Fort Collins Municipal Railway trolley line to cultural destinations such as The Farm at Lee Martinez Park and the new Discovery Science Center is one such investment.

Desired outcomes from the project include:

1) Improve the economy by increasing the cities choice as a tourist destination.

2) Provide increased recreational opportunities to community members by linking two major community parks (City Park and Lee Martinez Park).

3) Connect the Downtown Transit Center to City Park and Lee Martinez Park.

4) Provide greater educational opportunities for children by connecting up to The Farm at Lee Martinez Park, the new Discovery Science Center, the old trolley barn, leveraging the historic nature of the trolley, as well as its nature as alternative electric transportation.

5) Improve safety on the river at Lee Martinez Park by encouraging bathers to take the trolley to the City Park Pool.

Desired impacts:

1) Improved community pride in the Lee Martinez Park Neighborhood.

2) A fun enjoyable experience for visitors to Fort Collins.

3) Stir discussion about the future of light rail in Fort Collins.


This proposal was written and conceived by me (Dave Graham). It is not the product of the Fort Collins Municipal Railway (FCMR). This proposal will require the approval of the Fort Collins Municipal Railway Board in order to move forward.

I am a member of the Lee Martinez Park Neighborhood. I am a rail futurist rather than a rail fan. As a rail futurist, I has little interest in recreating the past than I want to creating a new future. My interest in this project is to primarily promote the idea that light rail can be feasible transportation alternative.

It is my firm desire to leverage this project as a first step to obtaining true light rail service here in Fort Collins. Primarily by extending the FCMR track to the Downtown Transit Center it connects the system with Transfort. It is the my hope that the line can be dual purposed with the historic Britney trolley running on weekends for tourists and a modern handicap accessible light rail car could be run by Transfort on the weekdays.

I a member of The Climate Project and seek to teach people about the coming climate crisis. I have also spoken on the issue of peak oil and the end of cheap oil. This project represents my interest in going beyond talk, by taking action to promote a different future transportation model.

Creating a Destination on for the light rail track:

Currently the existing light rail track, referenced as the trolley track, originates from the trolley barn in City Park, travels most the length of West Mountain and ends just west of Howes street. It spurs into City Park where the trolley kiosk and loading area is. City Park has been established as the West end destination.

Currently the end at Howes street can be loosely called a destination of “Old Town”. Unfortunately, this loose definition does not make for a compelling travel experience.

The FCMR has a plan to continue the track up Howes street and connect it to the historic trolley barn. That plan is currently seeking grant money. This will make the end point a hoped for future transportation museum.

This proposal would create three additional destinations at the east end of the Trolley line. They would be:

And although these three locations will make riding the trolley from City Park more popular, it is more likely that these locations will become origins (particularly the Downtown Transit Center) and the system may become known as the Trolley to City Park.

The Fort Collins Municipal Railway:

This is a group of dedicated volunteers who keep existing trolley system in Fort Collins operational as a tourist attraction. The do a great job and have put countless hours in. This proposal does not intend to undermine any of their activities, nor discount the contribution that they have given to the community. Read about their activities on their web site.

The Rail Yard between Mason Court and Sherwood Street:

It is unclear if the original tracks in this yard were first constructed by the Colorado and Southern (C&S) or the Greeley, Salt Lake and Pacific Railroad (GSLPRR). The former operated the yard, the right away for the latter passed through the yard. It is clear that the ownership was held by C&S by the turn of the century. It was a four track yard with additional tracks serving a locomotive maintenance shed as well as coaling and water towers. The yard was passed from C&S to Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy, then to Burlington Northern, then to Burlington Northern and Santa Fe (BNSF).

During the 1970’s or 80’s the engine maintenance facility was removed. In 1996 that portion of the land was sold off to Wonderland Hill Development Corp. On that portion, the Riverrock Cohousing community, single family homes, and the Mason Street North project was constructed.

Two of the four track yard remained as it was connected to both the northbound and southbound BNSF main line. This created what is known as a Y track allowing trains to be turned around on the mainline. With today’s modern locomotives, the turning of trains is not as necessary as it was in the past, and in the fall of 2006 the yard was entirely disconnected from the mainline.

For the purpose of this proposal the four tracks will be labeled with number one being the furthest south. Currently only tracks 2 and 3 remain of the original four tracks. About 2/3 of the track 1 ties are still in place mostly buried some still containing tie plates. Track 2 is in better condition than track 3. It is the through track and appears to have been maintained by BNSF to a higher level. There are no remains of track 4.

Both tracks consist of primarily 85 lb rail with some 90 lb sections. Most of the rail is of 1905-1910 vintage. Much of the rail has been turned so that it shows ware on both upper edges of the rail. Tie plates date from unmarked small ones (assume 1910 vintage) to 1920’s to 1938 and 1941. There is quite a mix of tie plates. Rail joiners are primarily of 1941 vintage. The ties on both tracks are badly worn. The ties on track 3 are in bad condition with some of them having evidence of being reused more than once.

Proposed Rail Alignment:

Please refer to the map of the proposed rail alignment. This portion of the document will discuss the proposed rail alignment starting at The Farm at Lee Martinez Park and connecting to the existing Trolley line on Mountain Avenue.

Please note that all thoughts here are my own and not that of a profession rail alignment expert.

Mason Court to Sherwood Street:

The city must first purchase the abandoned BNSF rail yard between Mason Court and Sherwood Street with the existing tracks intact. More about how that might be financed in a later section. It would be wise to contact BNSF and indicate the intent to purchase with the tracks intact prior to BNSF pulling up the tracks for scrap. See below how the city might finance this.

Of the tracks on the property it is proposed that Track 2 be used as the new trolley track and that the rails from track 3 be pulled up and gowned to be reused as rail for the sections on Howes and Mapel Street.

The frog and arms of the existing switch between tracks 2 and 3 would also be removed to be reused on Howes to create the spur up to the old trolley shed at Howes and Cheery Street.

Removal of the rail, tie plates and spikes could be performed by community service works such as the Larimer County Workenders program or AmeriCorps. Additionally there may be volunteer labor available from the FCMR.

Mason Court to Mason and Maple Streets:

This section would use existing BNSF track. The Fort Collins City streets department will need to realign the painted lanes in order for the trolley to travel safely amongst the automotive traffic.

The Discovery Science Center Spur:

This is the north portion of the old BNSF Y track. There are three options for this track:

1) Remove the track and use the rails elsewhere. Note that some of this rail is of a heavier type.

2) Keep the spur and have it end at the discovery center.

3) Keep the spur, and lobby to have a new trolley line as part of the North College Ave Corridor improvement plan.

I like option (3) myself. Although outside the scope of this proposal, now would be the time to add it to the North College Urban Renewal Plan, before construction begins.

In option (3) it would be necessary to gain approval from the FRA and UP to place a second diamond on the UP track just north of the UP/BNSF diamond. Along with approval to string cable across the UP track. This may not be difficult because the UP spur sees no double stack traffic and the UP trains must already come to a full stop before crossing the BNSF track at the diamond.

In this option the trolley would then proceed north along North College Avenue in the western most lane. The pedestrian section on the west side of the College Avenue bridge would be repurposed to have the trolley track. A new light weight pedestrian area would be attached to the west side of the bridge connecting the existing patio extensions that are above each bridge support

The turn from Mason Street onto Maple Street:

I do not know the capabilities of the FCMR people, so I would recommend that construction of all turns as well as the reconstruction of the street around the turns be professionally contracted out to an experienced rail alignment contractor. I think that the FCMR people could oversee construction of the straight track.

Maple Street between Mason Street and Howes Street:

I think this section of track would be placed on the south most portion of the street. A standalone curb (with water drainage breaks) could then be placed between it and the auto traffic. There would still be room for a parallel parking lane.

This placement allows for the construction of a Downtown Transit Center trolley stop structure on the south west corner of the intersection of Mason and Maple street.

This placement also removes the bi-directional trolley movement from the automotive traffic.

The total separation from the auto traffic allow for the “street surface” around the tracks to be replaced with ballast (gravel). Installation and maintenance cost will be reduced if the tracks are not paved into the road surface.

The Intersection of Maple Street and Howes Street:

It is proposed that the track along Maple Street clip the south east corner of this intersection as it turns on to southbound Howes Street. It is hoped that the Oil Company that owns that lot will consider donating a very small corner of their lot to the FCMR for this purpose. They could then take the donation as a tax deduction.

Alignment on Howes Street between Maple and LaPort Street:

I propose that the alignment on Howes be along the eastern most portions of Howes Street. A standalone curb (with water drainage breaks) could then be placed between it and the auto traffic. The city would need to give up either the parking lane, or move it in and give up one lane of traffic.

This placement also removes the bi-directional trolley movement from the automotive traffic.

The total separation from the auto traffic allow for the “street surface” around the tracks to be replaced with ballast (gravel). Installation and maintenance cost will be reduced if the tracks are not paved into the road surface.

This alignment allows for placement of the switch to the trolley shed spur up Howes Street to be installed in a portion of the road surface that need not be paved making construction and maintenance much easier.

The alignment on Howes Street between LaPort Avenue and Mountain Avenue:

There are two options for this alignment:

a. Us the existing track

The primary reason for using the existing alignment is that it is potentially less expensive. The existing track is in the second lane (one over from the parking lane) form the west side of the street. It is covered with about one inch of asphalt.

The asphalt would need to be removed from the surface and the wheel flange area.

b. Install a new track along the eastern most part of the street.

This would be an extension of what was proposed for the previous block. I think that it may not be possible to salvage the existing track and that this would provide a lower maintenance alternative. I base this on recent evidence from work at Mountain Avenue and Linden Street. When rails were pulled up, they were severely rusted and I believe that the process of removing the over coat of asphalt will likely be to hard on them.

Project Funding:

My thoughts on project funding are these:

1) The FCMR are already looking for grant money for the Howes street part of the project. Support and encourage that activity.

2) Have the city buy the BNSF property, then subdivide it, taking alignment for track 2 for trolley, and track 1 (no longer existing to the south) for a pedestrian trail (may get some rails to trails money to bank it), while making a series of smaller lots along the north side of the property. Sell those lots to an infill developer like Denny Sovick.

3) Purchase the land with rail on it. Salvage the rail to reduce cost of the project.

4) If there still not enough rail, ask for donations. I can think of several industrial lots in Northern Colorado that still have rail on there lot and long ago were disconnected from the system. One such lot is just up on North College Ave.

5) More grants. If Transfort gets on board, including the purchase of a used but newer light rail car, then the whole project could go after some state or federal transportation money.


I think it is time for Fort Collins to take a stand on light rail as an issue. This simple proposal is a step in the right direction. Please post your comments here so all can see.

No comments: