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Colorado floods wash out tracks, delay coal shipments, Amtrak service

17 Sep 2013

Flooding has detoured coal deliveries and Amtrak passengers moving through Colorado, as railroad repair crews waited Monday for floodwaters to recede in several locations, spokesmen for BNSF Railway and Union Pacific said.

Amtrak is using buses to shuttle several hundred passengers a day between Grand Junction and Denver because of washed-out rail lines, a spokesman said.

Amtrak operates an incoming train from the west to Union Station and a westbound train from Denver each day, said spokesman Marc Magliari.

The passenger train uses the Union Pacific rail line that is washed out in several spots between Denver and Crescent in Boulder County.

Union Pacific said it has been able to reroute the cargo shipments, primarily coal, that move west from the Denver area.

"We're telling our customers to expect a 72-hour delay," Union Pacific spokesman Mark Davis said.

A washout Sunday southwest of Sterling blocked GNSF shipments of coal headed for Xcel Energy's Pawnee Power Plant near Brush.

Both railroads said they have been able to reroute shipments to eventually deliver coal to their destinations.

Davis couldn't estimate how long it would take to fix varying degrees of water damage on the line.

"We've been sending up shipments of gravel, staging it for when the water goes down so we can get in there to fix it," Davis said.

He said about 10 trains a day travel the line from Denver en route to Grand Junction. Union Pacific also closed a line north of La Salle in Weld County because of flooding, but Davis said only one or two trains a day used the line, and those also have been rerouted.

BNSF Railway spokesman Andy Williams said repairs to its line between Sterling and Brush should go quickly once the water goes down, but he could not estimate how long the line would be closed or how many trains a day use it.

"We're still assessing, still waiting for the water to go down," he said.

About 2,500 feet of track washed out north of Boulder, but Williams said the line was lightly used, and as with other locations, deliveries have been rerouted.

The BNSF track in south Colorado Springs was out of service due to washout, but service was restored over the weekend, according to the company.

Xcel spokesman Gabriel Romero said delayed coal shipments, within reason, shouldn't cause a problem for power generation in the state, since all three of the utility's coal-fired power plants in Colorado maintain at least a 30-day reserve of coal.

"We keep a certain level of reserves, so things like this don't affect us, at least not in the moment," Romero said.

On Friday, the Federal Railroad Administration made a declaration of an emergency for Colorado because of the flood threat to rail lines.

Source: The Denver Post