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'Slow down': Colorado mountain residents concerned over wildlife deaths caused by trains

Residents blame train speed, wildlife crossings
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Posted at 6:43 PM, Feb 06, 2023
and last updated 2023-02-06 20:45:09-05

PARSHALL, Colo. — Contact Denver7 is looking into reports from our mountain viewers that trains are taking out deer, elk, and other animals in alarming numbers.

The viewers blame speeding trains and said they were getting no response from the train companies themselves.

Between Parshall and Kremmling in Grand County, Pamela Guzman has watched the wildlife crossing Highway 40 for years.

"There's herds of elk. There are herds of deer, and they're constantly going back and forth because that's the river there and that's BLM land there," said Guzman, who said the wildlife crossing can be deadly when trains pass through the community. "They honk at the last minute, and that's why we've got so many dead things on the track."

Her neighbor, Eric Valgiusti, said in the five years he has lived here, he has seen dozens of deer and elk hit by trains.

"There are not many people here, but there's an abundance of wildlife, and they cross through here. They get hit by the train," said Valgiusti. "The freight train is pretty easy to hear coming because it's slower, it's louder. And Amtrak, you don't get any warning at all. And it's just boom! It comes right through."

Walking alongside the tracks, there is evidence of collisions near his home—scattered bones and multiple carcasses of deer and elk.

"I sometimes even hear the conductor screaming out the window at him as he's going by," said Valgiusti.

Guzman blames the speed of the trains. The 70 mph speed limit, she said, means animals, including pets, have no warning.

Her dog was hit by a train last week, and their neighbor's dog was killed last year.

Colorado mountain residents say trains are killing wildlife at alarming numbers

"We loved their dog, and our dog was part of our family," said Guzman, who said she has complained to Amtrak and Union Pacific twice about the speeds in the area. "They just said they make a report and I've never heard back from him again. They don't slow down. We don't want to lose any more of our family members."

Contact Denver7 found reports of increased train-wildlife deaths in the area last year. Officers found evidence of more than 80 deer killed along the tracks in 2022, according to that report.

A Colorado Parks and Wildlife spokeswoman confirmed that officers have teamed with Union Pacific employees to count remains along the track in the past, saying that numbers are higher when snowpack is higher because animals use the tracks for passage.

When we asked Amtrak about reducing speeds near Kremmling, a spokesman referred us to Union Pacific, which referred us to the Federal Railroad Administration.

A spokesperson with the FRA stated railroads establish the maximum authorized track speeds in accordance with federal track safety standards.

In an email, an FRA spokesperson wrote: "While not entirely the same, one could relate this to state and local entities setting their own traffic speeds that best suit the local conditions and structure of particular types of highways and roads."

So, we reached back out to Union Pacific, which did not respond to the question of setting speeds that suit local conditions, but sent this statement:

"Union Pacific sets the maximum speed in accordance with federal standards. As part of our agreement with Amtrak, Union Pacific is required to maintain the track for the maximum speed, allowing Amtrak to run and meet an agreed-upon schedule. The schedule takes into account the speed the train needs to run in order to achieve the published schedule.

Unlike a car, trains are heavy and cannot quickly stop. It can take up to a mile and often by the time an engineer sees something, it’s too late to stop. While we are saddened by the loss of an animal, it is unreasonable to run trains at speeds slow enough to come to a quicker stop."

But Guzman and other neighbors have not asked for "quicker" stops. They are asking for slower trains in their wildlife crossing and their backyards.

"Slow down. That would give enough time to the animals—give everybody enough time to get off the tracks," said Guzman.

Editor's note: Contact7 seeks out audience tips and feedback to help people in need, resolve problems and hold the powerful accountable. If you know of a community need our call center could address, or have a story idea for our investigative team to pursue, please email us at or call (303) 832-7777. Find more Contact7 stories here.