A luxury train company is planning a route that will bring travelers from Denver to Moab. The company will create a new stop closer to Moab’s downtown. Currently, the closest passenger train station is an Amtrak stop in Green River, a 50 minute drive from central Moab.
“The exact location where guests will de-train is still to be determined, but we expect it to be around a 10-minute motorcoach ride from downtown Moab,” wrote Tessa Day, a spokesperson for the Rocky Mountaineer, a Canadian tour company that operates three rail routes through British Columbia and Alberta. The “Rockies to the Red Rocks” tour will be the company’s first offering in America.
The site of the temporary stop has yet to be announced, but possibilities include the Canyonlands Regional Airport or around the Highway 313 junction.
“I’m excited because this gets cars and traffic off the road, and gets the kind of visitors to Moab that will stay in the hotels and eat at the restaurants and do heavy-duty shopping, so it will be very good for the economy,” said Joe Kingsley, a local businessperson and former county council member who has long been active on local transportation issues.
Kingsley also commented that the project could aid efforts to develop a regular rail station in Moab. After the completion of the UMTRA Project—a U.S. Department of Energy project to move 16 million tons of uranium tailings from the banks of the Colorado River to a permanent disposal site near Crescent Junction—the train station could be moved permanently to the site closer to town, said Kingsley. The tailings could be completely relocated as early as 2025, officials say, though required remediation of the site will have to take place once the tailings are moved.
According to Kingsley, the UMTRA project has already agreed to leave all of the railway infrastructures in place so that it could be a transportation hub in the future. A 2018 Community Vision document from the county council confirms that the rail infrastructure is part of the plan for the future of the site.
The Rocky Mountaineer website lists the Homewood Suites and the Hoodoo Moab Hotel (both Hilton properties), as well as the Hyatt Place as partners. Specific local outfitters have yet to be announced.
“We are excited for the Rocky Mountaineer to bring in the types of tourists who will spend a lot of money locally and will be kinder to our public lands,” said Mary McGann, Grand County Commission chair. McGann said officials believe rail tourists would be a boon to the local economy. That view is shared by Elaine Gizler, director of the Grand County Economic Development Department & Moab Area Travel Council.
“The visitors that will be coming to Moab via The Rocky Mountaineer are a different type of visitor,” said Gizler. “They don’t have any equipment with them…so that means that if they are staying here, they will need lodging, restaurants, and outfitters.”
Luxury line could pave path for other transit projects
Perhaps more interesting to Moabites is the possibility that the luxury train line could pave the way for a commuter train. Both local officials and business owners see this as a chance to shape the future of transportation around Grand County.
“We are currently discussing our rail infrastructure for public transportation services,” said McGann at the Seven County Infrastructure Coalition meeting last month. “Moab will serve as the new destination for a luxury passenger rail service from Denver to Moab.”
According to Kingsley, mayors from the Wasatch Front to Moab are in support of a rail line connecting the towns.
“I sent letters to all the stops between here and Salt Lake and I got 100% support from Price, Spanish Fork, Green River, all the way to Provo, and so forth,” said Kingsley. “A lot of the students at Eastern Utah University there are from the Wasatch Front and being able to use a commuter train would be a great benefit for that demographic of Price.”
Kingsley later mentioned in an email that he believes the train, along with the USU-Moab campus, are two major steps in improving the county economy.
Bringing commuter rail service to the area, in addition to a road bypass that was recommended as recently as 2018 by the Moab and Spanish Valley Regional Transit Plan, could reshape downtown Moab. Various bypass proposals have sparked local pushback, particularly from communities that could be affected by a bypass located within the valley. During a meeting for the transit plan hosted in November of 2020, a majority of stakeholders showed support for a highway bypass around Moab and extending the bike path network into Spanish Valley and Castle Valley, as well as adding frontage roads on either side of Highway 191 to consolidate driveways onto the highway.
Additionally, the committee listed a “multimodal transit center” as a draft project on state trust land near the airport, and a similar hub was mentioned for the UMTRA site.
These projects—the bypass, additional bike paths, and passenger rail services—could transform downtown Moab from a busy highway into a space friendlier to pedestrians and bicycles.
Developing rail has also been of interest in the Utah State Legislature. In February of last year, Utah Sen. Jacob Anderegg and Utah House Rep. Suzanne Harrison introduced SB 92, which would create a statewide study for a comprehensive railway plan. It passed unanimously in the House but ran out of time in the State Senate session. Similar legislation could be reintroduced in the 2021 general session.
Some see hope for regional commuter rail development