Thursday, June 16, 2016

Rio Grande 491 Struts Her Stuff Around Her New Home

A little bird (not Twitter) whispered in my ear that the restoration of 491 by the Colorado Railroad Museum has got someone's attention down in Durango. Could be that the museum will be doing some work on another K-37 Mikado very, very soon.

I hope so. I hope they run her as well as her sister, too. What day is today? Thursday. Would you believe that contributing photographer found her pulling a load of passengers in a gondola? To my delight and our mutual pleasure, it was too good for John to pass up!



All three photos: John Hill
Get on down there this weekend for Father's Day. Tell them it would make you happy to see your kids in the caboose! Well, it would. Wouldn't it?⚒

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Colorado Legislature Shows Support For Reviving the Ski Train

Last month, the Colorado State Legislature, in what could be termed a show of support for the growing interest in resuming the Ski Train, put forward a grant to build a platform for service, aimed at resolving Amtrak's objection for direct service to the slopes of Winter Park.

Amtrak? Not that Amtrak?

Yes, that Amtrak, although there has been nothing to indicate that Amtrak has the initiative to begin its service or when. If and when it does, it could be a partnership between Amtrak and the state as in North Carolina, Maine, or California.

Whatever form a revival will take, it probably won't be like the old Ski Train, because the old Ski Train lost money. The new service, if it comes at all, will likely not run all season, and it will likely be a tighter fit for those riding in coach. Will it be better than running the gauntlet that is I-70 in winter? Oh yeah! But I guarantee it will be different (and likely more expensive) than the old way under Ansco. Amtrak and Winter Park are likely to have differing ideas about rail service to Winter Park, especially in terms of dates and times of service. Hopefully, riders will have more options than under the old system, and service will run frequently and fast.

Ski Train Rio Grande Denver to Winter Park in winter and summer
How many years did the Ski Train run both summer and winter? The glory of summer day trips to Winter Park to escape the heat of the city made the summer runs a special treat for residents of the Mile High City. Artwork: SkiTrain.com




In the video above, Walt Loevy gives us a brief show of a Ski Train in its final 2009 season. There is nothing like the unmistakable sound of an EMD F40 whipping by! Watching it, I can't help but remember another Rio Grande train, the Rio Grande Zephyr, with a similarly painted EMD F9 on the point and single level cars whipping by. I think Ansco did that on purpose. ;)

Here's one last video, click for a look at what the coach service was like in summer 2007.⚒

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Commuter Rail Officially Operational In Denver

Early 2016 Eagle P3 progress
All photos: RTD
It's opening weekend for RTD's first-ever commuter rail line. Like the first light rail line, it's a milestone for the state's largest metropolitan transportation agencies (and by far the richest). The Denver metro area's Regional Transportation District covers all or part of 8 counties, an eighth of the 64 counties in Colorado. According to RTDs site,
The University of Colorado A Line is 23 miles of rail that is making local and international travel easier than ever. The new line, which opened on April 22, 2016, provides easy, affordable and reliable connections between downtown Denver, Denver International Airport, and the many communities along I-70. With connections at Union Station to the C, E and W light rail lines, the G and B commuter rail lines later this year and local and regional buses, your public transportation options now have an international connection.
The international connection is Denver International Airport. In other words, it is now possible for someone in downtown to board a train at Denver Union Station and 37 minutes later, find themselves entering the protected grounds of the Federal TSA, en route to San Francisco, Chicago, Toronto, London, Frankfurt, or even places as foreign and unfamiliar (to LoDo loft owners at least) as Colorado Springs or Grand Junction.

Early 2016 Eagle P3 progress

RTD has other rail lines, so why is this one different? Well, not a lot of cities opt for commuter rail. When proposed under the FasTracks plan, instead of a single standard of rail, like all light rail or retrofitting the existing light rail to do all commuter rail, RTD proposed the northern half of the metro area to be served by BRT (bus rapid transit) and commuter rail. This actually makes sense when you consider the effort and the market. Commuter rail's strengths and light rail's comparative weaknesses seem to open up the market to the Hyundai Rotem's Silverliner V cars.

For example, if you board a car, any car, you do so from an elevated platform, rolling luggage and all, and you are (at least in theory) able to move to the least crowded part of the train, even in motion. Another example: if you find yourself worried about making it through security and onto your flight in time, watch the motorman speed it up to 79 and don't sweat the double nickle limit light rail is limited to, a speed benefit of 24 MPH. Commuter rail, for all it's "back east" appearance, really does have its benefits in place for riders.

Early 2016 Eagle P3 progress

So, why is the new line called "University of Colorado A Line" by RTD? According again to RTDs site,
RTD is working to establish a long term corporate partnership program to expand revenue opportunities to support a variety of services and programs. The University of Colorado A Line is the first partnership agreement of its kind for RTD and we are excited to implement our first partnership agreement on the line to the airport.
In other words, without approval from its constituency, RTD decided to sell the naming rights, akin to city officials feeling entitled to auction the public's interest in naming the stadiums and other buildings built for their use. Never mind that it would be better for clarity for RTD to name the B Line as such because Boulder is home to the main campus.

Opinion

I had an amount of commentary of dubious quality that honestly doesn't need to be aired on this, the A Line's first day of revenue service, and the culmination of a $2.2 Billion project. Instead, I will sum it all up with 3 words:

It's. About. Time!

Welcome to the big leagues, Denver. Make rail work for you like it always has and you'll be in good shape.⚒

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Sunday Viewing - GSRJ: The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad

Here's a half-hour video from Great Scenic Railway Journeys that makes it only too easy to fall in love with the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad!



If there was a video someone wanted to show someone about the D&SNG railroad, and they had half an hour to do it, I would be hard pressed to recommend a better film. Excellent production, great interviews and historic photographs make it worth viewing, even for the experienced rider!⚒

Friday, March 25, 2016

On This Date: Runaway Coal Train Pushed By Wind For Nearly 100 MIles

Wind damage is no stranger to the
northeastern 
Colorado plains.
 
Photo: Sherrif Nestor, Lincoln
 County Sheriffs Office
This weekend marks a mostly forgotten, strange-but-true event that I find pretty remarkable. Fully 132 years ago, residents out on the eastern plains of Colorado and southwest Nebraska were experiencing a wind storm of such severity that, though it had no vortex or definable center, it did damage worthy of a tornado. It tore the roof off of Akron's roundhouse of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy railroad. However, what was truly remarkable were the events of a couple hours on a Wednesday afternoon, March 23rd, 1884.

What follows is verbatim from Trains & Travel's August 1953 issue from a 1934 Railway Age article retelling of what the Lincoln, Nebraska State Journal reported (reprinted by the 1884 Railroad Gazette).
"It will be remembered that on Thursday March 26, there was a wind which amounted almost to a tornado. At Akron, it unroofed the roundhouse and did other damage. About 5 o'clock that evening, the wind, at its strongest, started a train of eight box cars loaded with coal that was standing on the side track. This eight-car train ran through the split switch and on eastward over the main track. The track was nearly level, but some distance this side it is downgrade, and the wind was so strong that it moved the cars more rapidly than passenger-train speed.

"The operator at Akron noticed the runaway train as it broke loose and sent the alarm down the line. Everything was sidetracked and the crazy train had the right of way. The Cannon Ball train westward was sidetracked just in time. Marvelous as it may seem, those runaway cars ran 100 miles, passing eight stations, over a track which is for a great part of the distance almost perfectly level, with no propelling power but the wind and their own inertia. They ran the hundred miles in less than three hours, station agents and others holding their breath with awe as the cars whirled by at high speed. They passed Haiger [69 miles from Akron] at about 40 miles an hour and on the downgrade east of Akron are estimated to have run 20 miles in 18 minutes. At Benkelman, 95 miles from Akron, a freight engine was run out following the runaway train, and after a chase of a few miles, closed the gap between itself and the freight cars, and was coupled to them." 
Notes
⚒ - The difference in days of the week, specifically Wednesday vs. Thursday, is likely because of an error of someone along the line counting the days from 1884 to 1953 to calculate the day of the week, quite possibly forgetting that 1900 was not a leap year. If it did occur on March 26, 1884, it was a Wednesday.

⚔ - Because it was prior to the Railroad Safety Appliance Act, passed in 1894 and effective 1900, it's not readily known if the rolling stock on the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad, which was the subsidiary of the CB&Q for the railroad in Colorado and Nebraska, were equipped with Janney automatic couplers, the rough predecessor to the standard coupler used today. If not, although a link-and-pin coupling might be difficult, mating a connection would still be possible, especially if it happened at a slower speed like 10 miles per hour.

Map of the Route


The idea of a runaway train, even 132 years ago, being pushed 100 miles by the wind might sound like a bunch of hokum at first, but a railcar with steel wheels on steel rails has a lot less rolling resistance than one might encounter with say a trailer or a wagon. Despite the characterization of the line as flat and relatively straight, the entire distance is mostly downgrade, losing 2,137 feet in altitude over 93.6 miles, yielding an average of -0.43% grade. I'm not sure if that's enough to keep a car rolling on it's own, but if straight-line winds of 60 or 80 MPH pushed on something broad and tall enough, it's more than likely to move along at quite a clip. Covering 20 miles in 18 minutes, 8 boxcars loaded with coal would be moving faster than 60 MPH! Imagine watching that roll through Yuma!

Is it possible it could happen again? Yes. Is it probable? I believe if given the right conditions, it would be probable, but not as likely today because of the difference in size and use of high side gondolas, along with higher emphasis on securing loads for safety.◊

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

POTD - Right At Home In the Tunnel District

Would you believe it's been 10 years since Colorado Railroads - www.corailroads.com - began? I wouldn't have realized it but for the fact that the Rio Grande Heritage Unit produced commissioned by Union Pacific is 10 years old next month. What a great job they did on that design! Having met the designers at the unveiling, I was pleased to tell them that they really did a great job capturing the feel of a very diverse railroad with a solid and, I believe, unifying design that, as far as I'm concerned, would look great in a production run! It's the least Union Pacific could do, considering how seldom the locomotive seems to make it through Colorado.

At home
Photo of the Day: Mike Danneman

Mike Danneman captured the vagabond UP 1989 when the notch-nosed, brawny SD-70ACe was leading a comparatively grimey sister ACe. Mr. Danneman said the UP Heritage Unit "looks right at home exiting Tunnel 29 east of Pinecliffe, Colorado," heading east over former D&RGW territory in the Moffat Road's Tunnel District on July 10, 2006.◊

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

POTD: Climbing the Divide At Dawn

Photo of the Day: Kevin Morgan
Good morning! That's what you can say about today's Photo of the Day, Kevin Morgan's dawn photograph of Union Pacific's daily manifest train from Denver's North Yard to Roper, Utah. Climbing out of Denver's suburbs toward the Big Ten curves, the Flatirons and eventually the Continental Divide summit inside the Moffat Tunnel, the train has about an hour lead on Amtrak's California Zephyr, which is yet to load in Denver. This shot is the second of two that morning. Kevin's work is consistently such a high quality, he could easily fill a yearly calendar! ◊

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Perlman: A Glimpse of Pre-Staggers Act Railroading In America

This late 1950s-era documentary of the New York Central shows some very interesting technology of the time. Of particular interest is the analog version of a mass spectrometer used to predict the failure of a specific part inside a locomotive before it fails. Even in the era of DDE and JFK, railroads were pro-active!



This film was made by Alfred Perlman, president of the New York Central, back in the nadir of railroad regulation. Before the Staggers Act in 1980, railroads were suffering a slow, python-like squeezed death of government-supported competition of trucking industry and airlines on one side and government regulation via the ICC. The crush of it was that the ICC told them what they could charge with rate regulation, what contracts they could write, and all the bureaucracy such government control entailed.

Further, most of what he said was essentially correct. Such regulation was born in a monopoly and made sense at the time, but by the time of trucking and airlines, such regulations were impossible to live with. What he said would come back to haunt the US economy 20 years later. His company, the New York Central Railroad, after merging with the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1968 to try to survive, eventually failed outright, forcing the Gov't to come in and form Conrail, (a CONgress consolidated RAILroad essentially). In true "closing the barn door after the horse has bolted" fashion, Congress would come to the rescue with 4R and Staggers, both passed in major election years. He was telling the truth as he saw it to the American public, and he had hoped it would make a difference in getting some regulation lifted. Not enough, apparently.

Such a debacle likely prompted Reagan to comment a few years later,
Government's view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.
In 1997, the merger of the Penn Central was essentially undone with CSX and Norfolk Southern, the two eastern US railroads, carving up Conrail between them.

[Off topic: Along with the Reagan quote, my conservative roots can't help but wonder if there's a lesson in this post somewhere for proponents of Obamacare.]

Friday, January 29, 2016

Last Surviving Wig Wag in Colorado Still Wags For Amtrak Twice a Day

As a young kid fascinated with trains, I would get my folks to take me often enough to the Colorado Railroad Museum in Golden. Usually, it was my dad, but it could just as easily have been my mom and her mom as well out to stretch their legs and wander the small network of trails. Usually there was nothing running, not even the Gooses (sic) back then. But one time I remember stopping to view the strangest contraption I'd seen there or any on other right of way to my memory. When I got the courage to ask a volunteer, they said it was their wig wag signal. "Wig... wag? What's a wig wag?"

Long before the crossbucks and alternating red lights had become standard at railroad grade crossings, there were different means of attracting motorists' attention to the very real but too often unseen danger of a train approaching. A sensible solution by Albert Hunt, a Pacific Electric technician, decided that mimicking a crossing guards' lower half wave with a red lantern, then the railroad's universal indication to stop, would be the simplest and mechanically easier than a lot of other options. The gantry mounted wig wags were supplemented by other mounts, usually a pedestal in the median or off to the right of the lane approaching the crossing. The pedestal mounted a counter-weighted target with the box upside down, causing the target to wag like a person waving for attention.



The signals were deemed obsolete in 1949 when the now-common alternating red lights and crossbucks was standardized. Nevertheless, the ones in place since then have been wagging like the family dog for every train that crosses their stretch of rail.



While there doesn't appear to be a conspiracy afoot to remove these arcane contraptions, the number of active signals is dropping fast. The relative quiet of the original Atcheson Topeka & Santa Fe Railway route through Colorado's southeast and over Raton Pass allowed semaphore line signals to remain in place for years. That same quiet allowed the wig wags to survive as well, until the last decade. Wig wags at Manzanola and Rocky Ford have been retired, leaving a lone survivor in Delhi. A thoughtful aficionado with the know-how and resources has even placed a sign with it's unique status as "COLORADO'S LAST WIG WAG." Each day, Amtrak's Southwest Chief hustles by at track speed, one train in each direction, and precious little else. The rest of the day is reserved for quiet observation with cars and coyotes, along with the occasional antelope.

Surviving Wig Wags

The following map details a number of surviving wig-wags across the nation, mostly from Dan's Wig Wag Site. The red ones have been retired in the last 15 years or so. With less than 40 remaining, you might want to grab a photo of the survivors while you can.



ColorStatus
Active at last check
Retired or removed

Surviving anachronisms? Sure. Historic? Yes, and until BNSF or Amtrak decides differently, the signal at Delhi will keep wagging each way, twice a day.◊

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Burnham Shops In Final Countdown To Closure

For more than 140 years, the at-first narrow gauge Denver & Rio Grande Railroad and its standard gauge successors have maintained a locomotive maintenance facility and yard at 8th and Pecos in central Denver. In less than 3 weeks, that facility will turn it's last wheel.

Such news is a bitter pill to take.

It's no secret that declining coal traffic in Colorado and the unlikely prospect of its revival, at least in the domestic sense is driving the business decision. Nearly a year into a continuous drop in earnings, Union Pacific isn't shy about falling back on the tried and true method of shoring up a soft bottom line by consolidating operations and reducing expenditures. The bitter pill is the number of "relocated" jobs--at least 210--and the location, which is to some Rio Grande fans, sacred ground.

In his comments on the Denver Post news article announcing the closure, rail historian Dillon A. wrote
I propose that the Burnham yards be put on the Register of Historic Places. This facility is where hundreds of thousands of steam and diesel locomotives were overhauled and repaired. A good example of why this needs to be saved and saved NOW are one of the locomotives that came from this facility. These locomotives still survive on the Cumbres & Toltec scenic Railroad in Chama, New Mexico, Durango & Silverton scenic Railroad in Durango, and one at the Colorado Railroad Museum.  ... These locomotives were the narrow-gauge K-37 class of the Denver & Rio Grande Western. Out of 10 made, 8 still exist and one is currently operational. #491 is operating at the railroad Museum in Golden. These locomotives are the greatest example of the power and craftsmanship that this facility produced. That is why this facility needs to be saved NOW. It might just look like an old rail yard, but it holds MANY secrets and hold LOTS of opertunity [sic] for future historic rail preservation.
While my heart strongly echoes these sentiments, interested parties must either hastily coalesce into a preservation group or contact the existing preservation organizations like the Colorado Railroad Museum or History Colorado to get involved. Otherwise, we have little right to complain. 

At this point, UP spokeswoman Callie B. Hite says the railroad plans to prepare the 70-acre locomotive repair yard for sale. There are about two dozen buildings on the site, which is zoned for industrial uses. "The 70-acre property is located in an area experiencing renewed urban development," Hite was quoted in the article.



Opinion

More than 20 years ago, I can remember gliding past the "dead line" on neighboring tracks operated by Denver's pilot Light Rail line, scrolling past the many Southern Pacific and Union Pacific locomotives, searching intently for a Rio Grande in among the dirty grey and dingy yellow engines awaiting their fate to be rebuilt or sold. It's hard to imagine that the next time I do ride past, the dead line, shops and structures could be all demolished and plowed under for a scenic strip mall or trendy retail "infill." This was a place that birthed the Rio Grande's narrow gauge conversions, refit and rehabilitated the mighty 2-8-8-2's and their kin during the heyday of steam and rebuilt and repaired the generations of diesel locomotives that defied gravity over the spine of the continent. For generations, men punched in, endured hours of hard, sweaty work in grimy iron horses, some loving every minute of it. Their sons and grandsons remembering their work with pride. This place probably will now be re-developed and paved over with not even a hint that such history transpired there, except perhaps the irony of the same name, Burnham Shops.

If you disbelieve me, consider that today's Elitch's was in 1993 a very different place, the Colorado & Southern yards. Abandoned and quiet, they still had history waiting inside structures that had stood for decades. In two years, the only hint that remained of it's railroad past was a heavy, through-truss turntable, and in only a few more years, it was gone, replaced by a mediocre bat swing ride. It became a forgotten corner in a park that itself has suffered under a series of lackluster owners and stagnant growth after moving from it's own home in 1994 over a century old in the West Highlands of Denver. Is that really what should happen to Burnham?◊

Sunday, January 24, 2016

POTD - Denver Union Station Lit Up By Broncos Spirit, Civic Pride

I will admit that a certain team in orange & blue are dear to me. That's a bit of a given for a boy growing up in the 70s and 80s in Denver's western suburbs. It has absolutely nothing to do with today's choice of photo of the day. Really!

Photo of the Day: Joel Hinkhouse

It does have something to do with the AFC Championship in Denver at 1 PM, and the sweet spot where civic pride and railroads meet. In Denver's case, that intersects at 17th and Wynkoop Streets, where Denver Union Station has been lit up like the proverbial Christmas tree. It's a showcase to be sure with the passenger shed roof framing the beaux arts design of the station. Night shots are always tricky, but photographer Joel Hinkhouse seems to have found the balance, especially his managing to catch a reflection off an Amtrak CZ roof, making POTD 2 for 2 in that department.

Only one thing left to say: Go Broncos!

Monday, January 11, 2016

Tourist Railroad & Museum Conference To Be Held In Golden Mid-April

The Association of Tourist Railroads and Railway Museums has announced its spring 2016 national conference will be at our state's own Colorado Railroad Museum. The conference will run Thursday, April 14 to Saturday, April 16, 2016 and, while the fall conference is seems to be the main annual conference, the ATRRM says "interesting train rides and tours, a full educational program, and many social events for networking and getting to know colleagues and friends." Non-members should be alert for specials and activities in the Denver area held in advance of and during the conference dates.◊