Today, we finished watching the film Taken for a Ride.

Current Rail and Streetcar Travel in Boulder, Colorado

There are currently two (freight) rail lines passing through or near Boulder. The BNSF Front Range Subdivision runs from Denver to Cheyenne, passing through the east side of Boulder. This line currently carries no passenger trains. The Union Pacific Moffat Tunnel Subdivision runs west from Denver and comes surprisingly close to Boulder, climbing up the south side of Eldorado Canyon on its way to the Moffat Tunnel. That line currently only carries two passenger trains: Amtrak #5 (west) in the morning and Amtrak #6 (east) in the evening, both trains are codenamed “The California Zephyr.” Until March 29, 2009, the Denver and Rio Grande Western’s “Ski Train” also went along this route on its way to Winter Park.

In 2004, Graham Hill of Boulder formed the nonprofit Boulder Breeze organization to promote the idea of rebuilding Boulder’s streetcar network. The system would be modeled after Portland’s, would use replica antique streetcars, and would start with a loop around downtown, extending out along Pearl Street to the 29th Street Mall.

The RTD FasTracks Project aims to create a 41-mile light rail line connecting Denver, Boulder, and Longmont. The project originally aimed to have a high-capacity rail line linking Boulder with Denver by 2018. On April 13, 2010, RTD announced that the full build-out of the rail network may not occur until 2042 due to budget issues. This, in part, is why U.S. 36 is under such massive construction currently, as an 18-mile express bus lane is being constructed between Boulder and Denver.

Past Rail and Streetcar Travel in Boulder, Colorado

It may surprise one to learn that Boulder once had a fairly large network of passenger rail and streetcars. Beginning in 1873, the current BNSF Front Range line was part of a passenger rail system from Golden to Longmont. In the same year, a passenger rail line was built from Brighton to Boulder, with a station at what is now Pearl Street and 20th. The same line also ran down what is currently Canyon Blvd and ended at the mouth of Boulder Canyon. Built in 1877, there was a line that carried passengers along what is now Foothills Parkway. This met up with a line created in 1881 that connected downtown Boulder with downtown Denver. This line came down what is now Broadway, detouring through the CU campus where the Muenzinger Building (and our classroom) now sits. In 1883, the rail line to Nederland from Boulder was constructed. One of the cars used on that line still sits in Nederland as a coffee shop and candy store.

The streetcar network in Boulder was started in 1899. At first, the cars ran along a non-looping track and were pulled by horses. The horses were unhooked and moved to the opposite end of the car at the rail’s end. In the early 1900′s, there were three main loops for streetcars in Boulder. One connected the Hill, Colorado University (as it was known then, hence the nickname “CU”), and Baseline Road with downtown. One ran from downtown to the north, running along what is now Broadway and looping to the west, coming back to downtown along 10th Street. The last line went east along Pearl, Spruce, and Pine Streets.

Pearl Street was paved between 11th and 17th Streets in 1917 to accommodate automobiles. This was the first section of paved road in Boulder. After this, the streetcars were gone from Boulder within 15 years.


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