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Glenwood Springs and Pitkin County join Eagle County to oppose Uinta Basin Railway approval

A train of oil tankers travels along the Union Pacific Railroad line, next to the Colorado River in Loma.
Brent Gardner-Smith
Aspen Public Radio
A train of oil tankers travels along the Union Pacific Railroad line, next to the Colorado River in Loma. The same trains run through Glenwood Canyon.

Glenwood Springs and Pitkin County have signed onto a petition to support overturning a federal decision authorizing the building of the Uinta Basin Railway.

The proposed railroad would transport crude oil from the Uintah Basin in Utah across more than 100 miles of railroad — some of which pass along the Interstate 70 and Colorado River corridor. It’s set to be operated and constructed by the Seven County Infrastructure Coalition — a group of seven counties in eastern Utah.

Eagle County filed a petition in February asking the federal Surface Transportation Board to reconsider its December decision allowing the railroad to go ahead.

In its petition, the county — along with the Center for Biodiversity, a nonprofit in Tucson, Ariz. — claims the STB failed to take a “hard look” at the “environmental effects of the Railway’s significant increase in rail traffic and potential for accidents on the existing Union Pacific main line between Kyune, Utah, and Denver, Colorado.”

The amicus brief filed by Glenwood Springs and Pitkin County, along with eight other local governments across Colorado, echoes the claim that the STB did not give enough consideration to the environmental impacts of the railway.

Glenwood Springs city officials are concerned that the number of crude-oil cars traveling on the Union Pacific Railroad line would increase dramatically. They claim up to 185,000 crude-oil cars would be authorized to use the Union Pacific line per year, which they say is a twentyfold increase from 2015.

Mayor Jonathan Godes also said in a statement that the STB’s assessment that wildfire risk in the downline area was not significant “ignores real-world evidence.” The brief points to the damage done by the 2020 Grizzly Creek fire and the subsequent mudslides in 2021, brought on by the fire’s burn scar and torrential rains. The mudslides closed the interstate for weeks.

The brief also claims that the decision did not adequately address the risk of derailment — risks that come both from the size of oil-tanker cars and the mountain terrain that the cars would pass through, such as Glenwood Canyon.

“As the Grizzly Creek fire shows, a single spark can raze Glenwood Canyon,” the amicus brief said. “But the Decision at issue entails more than just a spark; the release of highly flammable crude oil could ruin this unique region for decades. The failure to analyze — let alone mitigate — that risk is arbitrary and capricious.”

As of Monday, representatives from the STB had not yet responded to Aspen Public Radio’s request for comment.

Editor's note: a previous version of this story referred to the proposed railway as the "Uinta Railway." That is not correct—the proposed project is called the Uinta Basin Railway.

Caroline Llanes is a general assignment reporter at Aspen Public Radio, covering everything from local governments to public lands. Her work has been featured on NPR. Previously, she was an associate producer for WBUR’s Morning Edition in Boston.