Tuesday, August 30, 2016

POTD - Autumn Aspens Aflame Over La Veta Pass

The cooler weather of last week calls to mind that autumn is approaching and with it, the fall colors returning to the high country. Now, aspens aflame may seem synonymous with a number of Colorado's railroads, but for some reason, I don't readily recall the San Luis & Rio Grande, or as it's known to most folks, the Rio Grande Scenic Railroad as a primary venue for autumn viewing.

Could this soon change? The RGSR is booking tickets for its Fall Colors Explorer. Their first class tickets are still available for $130 aboard a standard gauge, diesel service departing Alamosa and Fort Garland for La Veta Pass. While not the typical steam trip, it looks like those willing to part with the tidy sum will enjoy food, wine, and a memorable experience on board to go with their photos.

Photo of the Day: Michael F. Allen

Michael F. Allen took the above frame at La Veta Pass of SLRG 18 hauling a photo freight westward in the midst of some dazzling and brilliant aspen. While the framing and timing of the photo is just right, the tall, open gons and the tall, standard gauge engine make it stand out from so many narrow gauge steamers. The green jacket to the boiler looks sharp and defined, giving contrast to the the former LS&I 18. Had it been the standard black, it just wouldn't pop like it does. Truly worthy of Photo of the Day!⚒

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Denver's B Line Opens, Gold Line Still Testing In August

Denver's RTD is phasing in the changes as FasTracks projects continue to roll in relatively on time for their completion dates. As announced, the A line to DIA opened in April. In July, the B Line--known during construction as the Northwest line--is in full operation in time for students and worker bees to travel from Broomfield to Denver Union Station 6.2 miles and 11 minutes away. Denverites and visitors can now ride the rails from Westminster and Broomfield to Santa Fe and Mineral (with a single change to light rail), and they are not done yet!

First, Boulder and Longmont will eventually be stops of the same B line, ergo B is for Boulder, not just Broomfield. There is a slight problem with funding. Barring a new effort, the extension will not be built until 2030 or even later. Yeesh.

Next, the Gold line is in testing mode with a planned opening this fall. Contributing photographer John Hill submitted a photo taken by Georgia Buechler on August 4th showing a test train stopped on the Union Pacific flyover that carries the commuter rail over the Moffat Route and California Zephyr.

The lines are quietly queuing and coming along nicely:

Commuter Rail
  • A line - completed, renamed
  • B line - see above
  • G line - see above
  • North line work beginning, to complete in 2018

Light Rail

And all of it by: Electricity, eeee-lec-tri-ci-ty...⚒

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Caboose Hobbies To Close September 25

It's official. Sadly, Duane Miller, the owner of Caboose Hobbies, is retiring. The unfortunate reality means that Caboose Hobbies will close, effective September 25, 2016.

The Denver Post published a thoughtful article with 11 photos about the impending closure, citing an aging hobby and the impact on retailers like "the world's largest model train store." There is a tendency for those in the hobby to resist investing in new skills and today's society in general seems to reward participation in sports and activities, which are not typically home-based, the typical location for a model layout. Then there is the limitation of the obvious problem with building model railroad layouts--that once it's complete, builders are forced to find new space or clear out entire sections to keep their interest focused. The idea, I thought, was to finish, but the joy seems to be in the journey.

On the other hand, the adaptation of model railroading to this lifestyle is the modular layout, where clubs like the Pikes Peak "N"gineers and the Colorado Rail Link construct table-top sections that fit together in a large room or exhibit hall, which are a significant draw for Train Shows.

The most important aspect of CH's demise was summed up very concisely by Tracy M. Cook in the article:
Building model trains is not as popular of a hobby as it once was. The 3D art form is time-consuming — and expensive — requiring a commitment on both fronts.
It seems that so very few of us have a balance of both commodities, time and money! Entire industries are born offering others more of one for a modest investment in the opposite (or more likely, a combination of both). We all have at least one of these. It's called a job. The sad part is that so many of us put off that layout because time, money or space just aren't the right amount. Tomorrow is never today, and we always think "sometime soon..." seldom realizing that we are really saying "No" or at least, "Not right now."

Whatever the excuse, time just ran out for the biggest retail modeler in the world, and all the money we have probably won't bring it back.⚒

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Caboose Hobbies Future Clouded By Landlord Sale

8/21/16 Update: Caboose Hobbies will close, effective September 25, 2016.

The changes of the last decade in Denver have been significant, to say the least. Denver Union Station went from Amtrak mausoleum, to a gutted hulk, to a thriving hub of light rail and a direct connection with Denver International Airport. T-Rex completely overhauled Denver's old Valley Highway. FasTracks has nearly finished thrusting new arteries of light rail and commuter rail throughout the metroplex with revitalized neighborhoods growing and thriving again. Burnham closing and coal loads continuing to drop have shifted rail traffic and cost more than a few jobs. Looking back, it seems few things have remained unchanged.

Photo: Caboose Hobbies
Of those few things, Caboose Hobbies, Guinness-certified as the world's largest model train store, is certainly one of the most treasured by Colorado's railfan community. As a kid, I would beg to go down to Caboose Hobbies because I knew that I could find anything I wanted or needed for my layout. It was difficult to keep money in my hands if I was anywhere near 500 S. Broadway. It was just too easy to find something that I had to buy.

Caboose Hobbies has been in Denver since 1938 under the same family operation for 78 years. It gradually expanded to occupy several buildings joined together by common walls and ramps. The store has around 60 employees, some with enough experience in modeling to leave in awe all but the most seasoned model railroader. Caboose Hobbies is one of the few remaining bastions of the experienced salesperson, where expertise, knowledge and expansive selection all come together to become the model railroader's best friend.

Unfortunately, the future for the store is uncertain. Their current landlord is selling the building. While this may indeed mean that Caboose Hobbies is moving, it may not require their relocation. It probably all depends on the buyer.

So, got a friend with a few million to throw into Denver real estate?

Until more is known, Caboose Hobbies is selling a lot of their stock in an across the board sale because money is easier to carry and harder to damage. What's online is what's in the store, so if you want to make sure you get what you want, order now!

In 2015, YouTube reviewer jlwii2000 took an 11-minute stroll through the store (above). He doesn't rest his lens on anything for very long, which is why it is only 11 minutes. I couldn't get through the store in under 30 minutes unless my car was on fire in the parking lot.⚒

Friday, July 29, 2016

New Rio Grande Standard Gauge Steam Video From Greg Scholl

A new video of contemporary steam on the historic Rio Grande Railroad is not that hard to find any year, mostly because of the fine work by so many companies to document the daily operations of the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic, the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge and the local preservation societies like the Durango Railroad Historical Society and their work with D&RGW 315.

In comparison, finding a standard gauge Rio Grande steam video is rare enough to pay attention to, even if big steam isn't always your thing. Only one standard gauge locomotive survived the scrapper's torch, and it's sitting in the museum in Golden. In other words, any big steam Rio Grande footage is vintage and something worth preserving.

While I have not yet previewed the actual video from Greg Scholl Video Productions, the trailer above looks promising! HT: DRGW.org's Green Light newsletter

Friday, July 8, 2016

Rock Slide Briefly Closes the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic, Service Resumes Next Day

Some trouble on July 4th kept the morning run from Antonito, CO from reaching Osier that noon for the traditional lunch stop, but that's life in the Rockies, it would seem. A rock slide occurred near Rock Tunnel, one of only two tunnels ever made for the narrow gauge Denver & Rio Grande Western.

As you can see, this is the west side of Rock Tunnel by the top of the Garfield Monument in the left center background. Photo CATS RR

From the west looking back towards the tunnel mouth. Even though there's only 3 feet between the rails, that doesn't make the rocks any less massive or difficult to move! Photo: CATS RR

Obviously, this was not just a bit of granite that they could just kick aside! Extra effort by work crews made sure that the slide would not interfere with the next pair of trains the following day, and the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic let everyone know that they are back in full operation with its press release below.
ANTONITO, CO   JULY 5, 2016    All routes on the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad (C&TSR) are once again open as of the morning of July 5, 2016, following a rock slide that temporarily closed the railroad between Antonito and Osier Station on July 4.   “We apologize to all riders who were not able to enjoy the complete line on July 4, but these things happen when you run the most authentic steam railroad in the nation,” said John Bush, C&TSR president.

 Jointly owned by the states of Colorado and New Mexico, the Cumbres & Toltec is the highest and longest steam railroad in North America, running 64 miles from Antonito, CO to Chama, NM, crossing state borders 11 times. The rock slide which sent several large boulders down on to the tracks occurred sometime before 10 a.m. on July 4, 2016 near Rock Tunnel.  The slide prevented the train departing from Antonito to make it to the Osier Station for lunch.  That train was able to turn around at Toltec siding and return back to the Antonito Depot.  The train departing from Chama was able to get through to Osier for lunch, and passengers were then returned to Chama.  No one was injured in the incident and crews were able to work throughout the day to clear the huge boulders from the tracks.  All trains and routes were in full operation as of 9:15 a.m. on July 5, 2016.
 The C&TSR was built in 1880 and climbs to Cumbres Pass at 10,005 feet elevation and chugs through Toltec Gorge, 800 feet above the river below.   “When you offer Rocky Mountain scenery such as we do, sometimes Mother Nature plays a role.  We apologize to any passengers who were disappointed with shortened runs on July 4th,” Bush said.
The Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad runs America's longest narrow gauge passenger trains over 64 miles of well-maintained--and usually rock-free--rails that pierce two tunnels and crest the summit of 10,022 foot Cumbres Pass.

Tickets are still available for runs over the high country the rest of the season of 2016 by visiting their site or by calling 1-888-CUMBRES / 888-286-2737.⚒

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.


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.⚒

Friday, March 25, 2016

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

Wind damage is no stranger to the
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." 
⚒ - 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! ◊