Colorado's ski train returns as the 'Winter Park Express'

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Amtrak conductor Brad Swartzwelter at the Fraser-Winter Park station used by the California Zephyr.
Bob Johnston
WINTER PARK, Colo. — The much-loved and talked about Ski Train is returning to Colorado slopes soon with a new name, Winter Park Express.

In an Thursday morning news conference, officials from Amtrak, Winter Park ski resort, the Colorado Rail Passenger Association, and Union Pacific say that they’ve collaborated to return the popular train with Denver & Rio Grande Western roots to weekends-only seasonal service.

“This is a tremendous shot in the arm for rail service in Colorado,” Colorado Rail President Jim Souby tells Trains News Wire. “When you couple it with efforts on the Southwest Chief and possible through car service from Chicago to Pueblo [Colo.] and Colorado Springs, you have suddenly created a new set of opportunities along the Front Range.”

Officials say that the Winter Park ski resort will shoulder more than half of the $3.5 million in infrastructure improvements with a nearly $1.8 million investment. Others contributing to the upgrades include the Colorado Department of Transportation, $1.5 million; the cities of Denver and Winter Park, $100,000 each; and Colorado Rail, $1,000.

Beginning Jan. 7 through March 26, 2017, a Superliner-equipped, Amtrak-operated Winter Park Express will depart at 7 a.m. from Denver Union Station each weekend day for the two hour trip to a newly-constructed, Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant platform directly below the ski slopes at the resort village. The return trip is set to depart at 4:30 p.m., and arrival back in Denver set for 6:40 p.m.

Fares are set as low as $39 each way with children aged 2-12 able to ride at half-price. Officials say fares will be available in daily, overnight, or all-week packages exclusively on Amtrak’s website.

The train will precede the daily westbound California Zephyr out of the Mile High City and follow it from Winter Park, assuming train No. 6 from Emeryville, Calif., to Chicago is on-time. The Zephyr does stop a few miles away at Fraser-Winter Park, but the new ski train facility now under construction on the site of the former Denver & Rio Grande Western station is within walking distance of ski-lifts and the resort, so no ground transfer is required.

The D&RGW operated weekend ski train service out of Denver until 1988, but previous efforts to restart it met resistance from Amtrak and Union Pacific until Amtrak California Zephyr Conductor Brad Swartzwelter approached Amtrak, Colorado Rail, and Winter Park resort managers with a business plan that would test the service one weekend in March 2015.

Once approved, two round-trips sold out instantly, but underscored the need for a permanent platform and Union Pacific track improvements at the Fraser siding before regular excursions could begin.

Tickets will go on sale 8 a.m. Mountain time, Tuesday, Aug. 30 online.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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