Front Range Airport May Not Get Rail Link for Its Cargo Operations

An intermodal transportation hub planned for years near Front Range Airport may not get the key piece its developers have been hoping for - a Union Pacific rail and truck freight yard.

Union Pacific and the Schuck Corp., the developer of the hub, called TransPort, signed a letter of intent in 2004 that called for Union Pacific to move its freight operation to the TransPort location near Front Range, a general aviation airport southeast of Denver International Airport.

But now, Union Pacific is conducting a study to look at moving its rail yards to about 640 acres in the Fort Lupton area, a $40 million initial project. Fort Lupton City Manager Tom Parko expects that would mean several hundred employees transferring to the area with jobs paying $60,000 to $80,000.

"In the end, we've decided that the Fort Lupton location is better for a number of reasons, mostly operationally for our freight locations," said Union Pacific spokeswoman Kathryn Blackwell. Union Pacific will make a decision after the nine-month study.

"What they have told us is they are considering an alternative location in the Fort Lupton area," said Schuck Corp. chief executive Bill Schuck.

Front Range Airport director Dennis Heap said the Fort Lupton consideration was "pretty much of a surprise to me."

A $450,000 Colorado Department of Transportation study in 2004 examined the possibility of shifting the freight operations to the east.

"The Front Range Airport has been building out incrementally to become a cargo facility, so if the intermodal facility doesn't happen, (there) is a very strong likelihood that there's not a need for the airport to be a cargo airport," Heap said.

Projects including a large air-

traffic control tower and an extended runway helped the airport prepare itself to accommodate cargo.

"Having put so much time and energy on behalf of the airport to working these things, and I think in good faith, it is frustrating," Heap said.

The TransPort letter of intent was contingent on finding a user for the railroad's property near East 40th Avenue and York Street.

The Regional Transportation District decided this year to pay Union Pacific Railroad up to $40 million to relocate freight-

rail facilities and track.

Union Pacific signed a contract for an option to acquire land from TransPort, which it has not terminated.

"In the event they cannot do what it is they are pursuing up north, they have to have a fallback," Schuck said. "It very well could be down the road that Union Pacific comes back and says TransPort is still a viable site for us.

"Regardless of whether operations move (to TransPort), they still are in the business of moving rail cars so we're providing potential new customers to them," Schuck said.

The facility can still potentially get rail service without the rail yard. Schuck has applied to Union Pacific for rail service at TransPort.

Schuck is continuing to develop TransPort as a logistics center, hoping to appeal to companies that can no longer get rail service because of changes in guidelines by the rail lines.

Schuck received approval from the city of Aurora for a framework-development plan for TransPort last year. He has also considered developing an intermodal hub in other markets such as Arizona.

Separately, International Speedway Corp. is considering part of TransPort land as a potential location for a new racetrack, along with a location near Denver International Airport.Schuck would sell the land to ISC if the site is selected.

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