Tourists on different track
Night train whistle in Colorado resort not romantic sound

The Associated Press

Winter Park, Colo.- The railroad, once the engine that drove the economy around here, is on a collision course with the new money machine: tourism.

Despite a railroad history so rich that the ski runs have names like Rail Bender, Derailer and Cannonball, this resort community high in the Rocky Mountains has passed an ordinance threatening engineers with a $300 fine or 90 days in jail if they blow their horns while traveling through town.

Seems the people who ski, raft, bicycle, hike and visit dude ranches do not like being rudely awakened by a blast from an early-morning train.

Complaints have picked up steam in the past couple of years, ever since the Union Pacific Railroad started routing more freight trains through Winter Park because another stretch of track was closed.  According to the mayor, the number of trains has doubled to about 30 a day.

“All of a sudden it seems like they're blowing their horns really loud, and they blow their horns way past the intersection, which is uncalled for,” says Kathee Thomure, who lives next to the tracks.

Lee Reynolds, owner of the Pines Inn at Winter Park, says he has never received so many complaints from his guests as he has in the past year.

“I don't think they have to lay on the horn.  A couple of short toots would do it,” he says.  “We're awakened a couple of times a night.”

Federal law requires trains to start blowing their horns a quarter-mile from a crossing to warn drivers and pedestrians.  Winter Park has three crossing, one with no signals.

Ed Trandahl, a spokesman for Union Pacific, says that federal law supersedes local law and that the railroad will ignore the ordinance.

“If we don't blow the horns and there is a collision, there are many lawyers very happy and willing to sue us with great diligence,” he says.

The Frazer Valley was built on ranching, logging, mining, and above all, the railroad.  The railroad extended from Denver over the 11,314-foot Berthoud Pass in the early 1900s, helping open the valley to commerce.

In 1927, the 6.2 mile Moffat Tunnel under the Continental Divide was completed, shortening the Denver-Salt Lake City run and bringing skiers to Winter Park.

When the Winter Park ski resort was developed in the late 1930s and 1940s, it borrowed names from railroad industry.  The town also has a lodge called the Iron Horse.

In recent years, condominium, second homes, and lodges – landmarks of the “new” West – have grown up around the railroad, where flat land is concentrated between the steep mountains.

Nowadays, the year-round population of 615 people grows to about 8,000 people during ski season, and rises during the summer, too.

The lonesome whistle of a train in the middle of the night is no longer a romantic sound, because Winter Park is no longer a lonesome place.

“I got an e-mail from guests from the United Kingdom who stayed with us a couple of years ago,” says Heidi McNinch, sales director at Beaver Village Condominiums.  “They asked if we could put them in a unit so they wouldn't hear the train ‘tooting in the night.’”

Mayor Nick Teverbaugh says the town is trying to strike a balance between its past and its future.

But Winter Park businessman Tim Flanagan, who grew up with the sound of the train and figures he probably couldn't sleep at night if the horns stopped blowing opposes the ordinance.  The railroads, after all, were here first.  “This tourism thing is an add-on that came later,” he says.

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