Joe Kingsley, whose experience includes serving as the vice chair to the National Railroad Corporation (Amtrak), updated the Ad-hoc Moab Transit Authority Study Committee in September on the most recent developments on studying the feasibility of connecting passenger rail service between Moab and Salt Lake City. The Grand County Council voted unanimously on Tuesday, Oct. 16, to support the feasibility study on passenger rail transportation. [Moab Sun News file photo]

The idea of passenger rail service to Moab is gaining support from the Grand County Council, the City of Moab and the mayors of Price and Helper. In addition, the concept is being acknowledged by the Utah Department of Transportation as a possible addition to the Statewide Long-Range Plan.

Ad hoc Moab Transit Authority Study Committee vice chair Joe Kingsley has been gathering information and curating a foundation of support for developing a system of passenger rail between Moab and Salt Lake City since a presentation at a committee meeting in May. At that time, Kingsley encouraged members of the committee and the Grand County Council to “think outside of the box” on transit development.

On Tuesday, Oct. 16, the Grand County Council approved a letter of support for studying the feasibility of developing rail service.

The letter, signed by council chair Mary McGann, states, “Grand County Council is supportive of your efforts to study and evaluate the need, potential benefit, and economics of scheduled passenger rail service between Moab and Salt Lake City. An alternative means of transportation between Salt Lake City and Moab would greatly benefit both local residents and tourists.”

Proponents of the development of passenger rail service say it would allow visitors to travel to the area without a vehicle, provide local residents with transportation to Salt Lake City and connect with other cities, like Helper, which already has an Amtrak passenger rail station.

So far, “I have not received any comments or feedback of a negative nature,” Kingsley said during an update to the committee in September. “I have received a letter from the mayor of Price … he recommended that they also do a letter of support. I have received an email from the mayor of Helper, and she is also on board.”

With the acknowledgment and support of several cities and towns, the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) said it “will consider all possible solutions that fit the context and market-based aspects of a particular region.”

“Teri Newell, deputy director of UDOT, acknowledged by request to do a feasibility study,” Kingsley said. “That’s all we’re asking for — we’re not ‘railroading’ the end result without a feasibility study.”

Members of the Ad hoc Moab Transit Authority Study Committee include Judd Hill, Canyonlands Field Airport director, Moab Area Travel Council Director Elaine Gizler, Grand County Community and Economic Development Director Zacharia Levine, and citizens Emily Campbell, Michael Liss and Joe Kingsley.


“Having the ability of rail for guests to access Moab would be amazing as they wind their way through the amazing landscape,” Gizler said.

The committee discussed how visitors arriving in Moab on passenger trains would then have options to cycle around the area, or possibly take shuttles or other forms of transportation.

“The rail service for a rural area is critical, especially when no bus service exists,” Gizler said.

Kingsley, whose experience includes serving as the vice chair of the National Railroad Corporation (Amtrak), said, “The only problem that I foresee is … doing a consumer-friendly station near Moab because of topography, where the rail is — it enters Moab, it’s high up and is limited access.”

Other hurdles to consider: Amtrak’s schedule and the cost of development.

“The problem with Amtrak is that the Amtrak schedule is not geared to local traffic,” Kingsley said. “It is geared for Chicago or Los Angeles traffic, so the train, as it goes through Green River and Price and so forth, is at midnight. That’s for a reason, because they’re optimizing the schedule to service the California Zephyr.”

Liss said the committee had looked at Amtrak passenger rail schedules as the trains pass through stations in Price or Helper.

“[Passengers] would have to get on at 3 a.m. or at midnight; that makes no sense,” Liss said.

Kingsley maintained a positive outlook on the feasibility of completing the project.

“The plan, the concept, is to do a feasibility study and maintain a low cost,” Kingsley said. “I know right up front, it would be in the red, at the beginning. However, if UDOT offsets taking the cars off U.S. Highway 6, and being able to not spend millions of dollars in upgrades on U.S. Highway 6 because of taking the traffic off, and use that conceptual planning for this project, it will pencil out as being in the black.”

Kingsley said that as technology increases the efficiency of the passenger rail, the cost of operating passenger rail per mile “is in the pennies.”

“Our objective is to put the pencil to the paper and do a financial economical analysis,” Kingsley said. “We did get a response from the UDOT… they have talked about it, but they have other priorities that they are looking at in the present time.”

An Aug. 28 letter from Newell said, “UDOT is working with Moab, Grand County and San Juan County on a number of planning initiatives including a review of U.S. Highway 191 bypass options, future land-use and transportation improvements in Spanish Valley, and how to better integrate airport planning with regional community and economic development objectives.”

In addition to the ad hoc transportation committee, a separate committee in Grand County has also recently discussed the development of passenger rail to Moab — the UMTRA Future Site Committee.

The committee is steering the vision for potential development of a 139-acre area of land adjacent to the Colorado River about 5 miles north of Moab. Currently the area, known as the Moab Uranium Mill Tailings Remedial Action (UMTRA) Project, is managed by the U.S. Department of Energy, which is removing millions of tons of contaminated uranium materials. The site has an established rail spur, which was built by the DOE for transporting the contaminated materials. Kingsley said the DOE has offered to leave the rail spur in place once the cleanup project is completed, at which time the land could see potential development by Grand County.

With the fiscal year 2019 increase in federal funding for the cleanup, the completion date and time in which the land could be ready for development as early as 2025 or 2028, said Kingsley.

“That means we have seven years to get this all done,” Kingsley said. “What a nice fit if we can make it happen … sooner than later.”

County council supports study; Amtrak schedule not currently geared for local traffic

“Our objective is to put the pencil to the paper and do a financial economical analysis.”