Railroad Spat Over Tennessee Pass Line

The Colorado Pacific Railroad says it will challenge an agreement struck between Union Pacific and Texas-based short-line operator Rio Grande Pacific that looks at starting up passenger and freight rail services on the Tennessee Pass Line.

Rail tunnel at Tennessee Pass, Colorado
Rail tunnel at Tennessee Pass, Colorado

The Colorado Pacific Railroad (CXR) said it would file a protest at the Surface Transportation Board, requesting that the lease agreement should not be approved because it would allow Union Pacific to maintain its “monopoly stranglehold” across the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. CXR said this was in defiance about the Board’s concerns about the Tennessee Pass line voiced in the 1996 UP-SP merger case – the merger allowed UP to use the Moffat Tunnel, the only existing trans-mountain alternative in Colorado, instead, and abandon the Tennessee Pass line. CXR also said it thought that case should be reopened “to enable Colorado’s competitive access to the national railroad network”.

The parent company of Rio Grande Pacific, Colorado Pacific & Midland Railway Company, said: “Colorado Midland & Pacific Railway Company (CMP) has entered into a commercial agreement with Union Pacific Railroad (UP) for the majority of the Tennessee Pass rail line in Colorado owned by UP. CMP has filed for common-carrier authority to operate the Tennessee Pass Line with the U.S. Surface Transportation Board, the federal agency that regulates railroads.”

The issue is, Colorado Pacific Railroad has had its eye on the Tennessee Pass line. Union Pacific started discussing the sale of the line to Colorado Pacific in 2019 but an offer of 10 million USD ultimately got turned down. Colorado Pacific wanted to force UP to sell the line for 8.8 million USD – but this was turned down in court. As of October 2020 Colorado Pacific attempted another forced sale.

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