Friday, December 22, 2006

Cumbres & Toltec News

Chama Steam has announced their dates for 2007 fall photo freight specials.

In other Cumbres & Toltec Scenic news, the governors of New Mexico and Colorado have revamped the state board that supervises the operation of the C&TS line with the intent of getting more experienced members. What this holds for the future of the Cumbres line, only time will tell.

DRGW Tunnel Motor To Be Preserved?

The last remaining untouched Rio Grande unit, number 5371, a tunnel motor, has not been patched. For years now, this diesel has soldiered on in relative obscurity in Utah. Nathan Holmes of DRGW.net has been watching this unit for several years, reporting on its status. In his December 8 report, Nathan said,
… a letter from Union Pacific president Jim Young had arrived at Roper regarding 5371. The letter was essentially a reprieve for 5371, stating the unit was to continue unpatched until such point that it suffered a major failure. At that point, it would be donated to the Utah State Railway Museum in Ogden. The letter arrived just in time, as 5371 was set to be patched later that same day.
If indeed it is true, this news would be welcomed by more than a few fans of the fallen Rio Grande. Such a donation would preserve not only the last remaining example of late Rio Grande power, but also assure the preservation of the unique design of the SD-40T-2 diesel. It appears from this and other similar acts such as the heritage locomotives that the Union Pacific values history not only of its own heritage, but also that of its acquisitions.

Slack Action

With preparations for Christmas, I realize that I’ve left several critical bits of information unpublished that should be known to anyone interested in Colorado railroads. For that, I apologize.

Then again, when I see that the Iron Horse News from the Colorado Railroad Museum has not updated since August, I don’t feel all that bad. In the meantime, get ready for a little slack action as the news (such as it is) comes quickly along.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Colorado Santa Trains

Editor's note: For your best option by location, please see the Map: Colorado Christmas Trains, updated every year, or for a recent and more accurate listing than the post below, see 2012 Christmas TrainsHere's the original post, published in November 28, 2006:


Colorado has a long list of Christmas traditions, both local and regional, like the lighting of the Denver Civic Center or Christmas parades at night. One tradition that has an international impact is NORADs tracking Santa as he makes his way across the world.

But when it comes to railroads, it seems the jolly old elf is a railfan too. He's making a list of trains he wants to ride to spread some Christmas cheer before the big day. Here's his Colorado itinerary:
Now you may wonder how Santa is going to ride 4 different trains across the state on December 2nd. I happen to know that Santa's administrative assistants are extremely efficient and have not double booked him. He will be at all of these locations through his special magic. However, if you happen to miss him, you can always drop by and visit him at the North Pole, which just happens to be slightly west (?) of Colorado Springs.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Denver Light Rail Southeast Corridor Opens Today

Today, Friday, November 17th, Denver's Regional Transportation District opens it's new Southeast Corridor light rail line (PDF flyer). This signifies the completion of the $1.75 Billion T-REX project. Festivities kick off today from 12 Noon to 3 p.m. at the Colorado Station. Festivities are planned to continue at stations along the line tomorrow and free rides on the entire system will be given all day tomorrow. If you're a fan of urban traction, or even a general railfan, it's a great chance to see the 19 new miles of track and explore Denver's southern and central areas. Fares kick in on Sunday, in time for the Broncos game at Mile High Stadium.

Links

Thursday, November 16, 2006

October Blizzard Photos

Check out the shots by Kevin Morgan. The last one is a beauty.

UP Steam from Denver to Pueblo in 2007

Union Pacific is planning on sending at least one steam locomotive and it's heritage fleet down from Denver to Pueblo for the state fair. More details will likely follow in the months to come.

HT: Trains

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Rio Grande Southern Engine #20 To Be Restored

According to the Colorado Railroad Museum, Rio Grande Southern engine #20, long stored on the museum grounds on loan from the Rocky Mountain Railroad Club has been officially donated to the Colorado Railroad Museum, along with Business Car Rico and D&RGW caboose 0578.

Of more significance, however, is the fact that #20 will be restored. From CRRM's Iron Horse News,
An anonymous donor has donated $400,000 to fund a rebuild of the 20 to operating condition, specifying that all work would be done by the Strasburg Railroad shops in Pennsylvania. Another $100,000 has been placed as an endowment to maintain the engine. The 20 and its tender, plus the tender for 346, have been trucked to Strasburg, and work on determining the condition of the boiler and running gear will commence as soon as possible.
To my knowledge, the museum has been without owning an operating steam engine since work was begun to overhaul D&RGW #346, which was due for some time. However, since the Georgetown Loop Railroad Inc. lost it's lease with the State Historical Society to operate over the Georgetown Loop, their locomotives and cars have been stored on the grounds and operated occasionally.

On a related note, there is a rumor that the owners of the ex-Georgetown equipment are considering placing a third rail down the Royal Gorge Route, which they also own. A tender on one of the engines has been labled with the flying Royal Gorge logo in white. Could we possibly one day hear a steam whistle once again echoing up from the depths of the Gorge? Only time will tell.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Durango & Silverton Survives Floods, Mudslides

Earlier this week, floods and mudslides threatened the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. Paul Schranck, VP and General Manager of the D&SNGRR, toured the damage by helicopter. He found that the floods were located at milepost 46.6, just above Needleton. The slides were 10 to 12 feet at the rails and it took three days to clear the blockage. Today, service is restored and the first train should pull into Silverton at 12:30 PM.

According to Trains magazine, the floods came down on Friday after several inches of rain fell in the Animas River watershed, causing the river to rise dramatically. No trouble was detected until the first afternoon train left Silverton.
The engineer stopped the train, although engine 482 suffered some damage from running into the rockslide. Evenso, he was able to start backing the train toward Silverton. The engine was running low on water and had to stop and drop its fire at MP 494. To rescue the train, engine 481 from the second train at Silverton was dispatched south to pull the train back into town; passengers from the second train were bused back to Durango.
Both trains were stranded at Silverton and the passengers of the first train ate dinner in Silverton and were bussed back to Durango. As far as the emergency stop by the first train, the train's typical top speed is only 18 MPH in open country and runs slower in the canyon where the mudslide occurred, meaning that the passengers likely only suffered the jolt of the brakes to stop. No injuries were reported.

With more snow and rain in the forecast, the battle may not yet be over.

Saturday, October 7, 2006

Steam Engines In Hot Water With Durango Residents

According to Trains, the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad is under pressure by residents to stop their steam engines from smoking...
On Oct. 19, a Train Smoke Mitigation Task Force will hold a public meeting in the Fort Lewis College Student Memorial Lounge to present the results of the recent feasibility study.

John Rimmasch, chief executive officer of Wasatch Railroad Contractors, will present the findings and recommendations of the study to the public at 6:30 p.m. Colorado's Air Quality Control Commission will attend the presentation and participate in discussion. A public question and comment session will also take place.
Currently, they are talking about changing the existing smoke stacks on the engines, putting a separate scrubber on the stack or switching the trains to alternative fuels like wood pellets or natural gas except when the trains are hauling tourists.

The Denver Post further explains,
Durangoans acknowledge the iron horse as the town's economic engine, but neighbors living just south and east of the downtown train yards have long complained about the black pall that sometimes hangs over their part of town at night. They hate the black soot that gathers on windowsills and smudges clothes hanging on the line.
Few things make me boil over (sorry) faster than people meddling with what has become a living legend in the tourist railroad business. What did they think they were getting when they moved near the railroad, an electrified trolley line? Instead, 125 years of tradition is just brushed aside because someone likes to line dry their laundry instead of using a dryer or hanging it up indoors.

Durango has long been a tourist town, but before that, as late as the 50s and 60s, it was a real working railroad town, serving as the junction point of two narrow gauge carriers that are the subject of many books and videos. Durango is perhaps the steam mecca of Colorado. Engines are already running under C&S-style bear trap stacks (Ridgway Spark Arrestors) that were never run on such locomotives, at least not while on their native rails. Converting an engine to run on duel fuel further reduces the historic authenticity of the steam engines and the railroad as a whole. It chips away at the legend. What's next? Demanding that they burn wood 100% of the time? Leave that to the Eureka & Palisade.

Many a night, I would go down to the areas around the depot in Durango and walk around, smelling the coal smoke as if it were lilacs in May. It appears that the next time I walk near the depot and roundhouse, with the smell of wood pellets, I'll get more of an urge to go get barbeque than ride the train.

People who move to the Las Animas River valley need to bear in mind one thing when they purchase their home: the railroad was there first. It's been there since 1881, and unlike so many other places in Colorado, the railroad is not going to pack it in.

Friday, October 6, 2006

The Odd Kinship Of Monarch and Marshall Passes

Monarch Pass and Marshall Pass have had an odd kinship in the 20th century. Back when highway engineers were planning US 50 in the 1930s, they had to pick one of three routes, Monarch, Marshall, or Cochetopa/Kebler. Cochetopa had the lowest crossing making it the friendliest to trucking, but not to local business. Marshall was lower than Monarch, meaning less snow, and the favorite of Salida's city council. According to route50.com,
A highway, it was argued, built on Marshall would have the added advantage of not having to cross the railroad switchbacks that were on the eastern slope of Monarch Pass, part of the spur line that served the limestone quarry.
In fact, I believe the only thing Monarch Pass had going for it as the route of US 50 was...it's name. Monarch was known as Monarch-Agate Pass to the state highway department and rumor has it that Charles D. Vail, the State Engineer, planned to give Monarch-Agate a much more simple and modest name...Vail Pass. Alas, it was not to be, likely because local residents objected. Instead, a crossing west of Dillon would be given that "honor." Highway 50 still went over Monarch, but without Vail's name attached to it.

Marshall Pass lost its rails in 1955; Monarch in the early 1980s. Marshall has a lonely Forest Service road built on much of the old narrow gauge roadbed while Monarch retains US 50. Had the highway been built over Marshall, it's possible the narrow gauge grade would have been obliterated by an ever-widening highway in the 60s and 70s.

Today, it's still possible to examine much of the Marshall Pass line as it travels between Poncha Springs and Gunnison. It's a quiet, peaceful place, and although no structures still exist on the summit, it's still possible to imagine the whistles of engines working their way to the summit.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Friends of the C&TS Wins Grant

According to Trains magazine, the Chama-based Friends of the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad won a $30,000 grant for the restoration of two Rio Grande RPO cars, one of which is Cook Car 053. It served the Chili line south of Alamosa to Santa Fe. As of 1999, the Friends planned to return Cook Car 053 to "sound and useable, historically accurate condition as a cook car for use in snow plow service." It looks like next time Cumbres needs to be cleared with the rotary, no one will go hungry.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Railroads Shuffling Denver Light Rail Plans

While Denver's RTD puts the finishing touches on its new Southeast Corridor line, both major Class I railroads serving Denver are having some sway over future plans under FasTracks. According to a September 9th article in the Rocky Mountain News,
The BNSF railroad, which owns tracks through Arvada and Wheat Ridge that RTD wants to use for FasTracks, has told the transit agency it won't allow light-rail train cars to operate in the same right of way as its freight trains.
The beer line, called so because it serves the Coors brewery in Golden, would need to be served by diesel or electric commuter rail, which railroad officials deem as more protective in a crash. This contradicts studies that recommended light rail for the line, which is planned to run through Olde Town Arvada. The News continues,

BNSF's decision matches one made last year by the Union Pacific Railroad not to allow light rail in the Smith Road freight corridor that RTD plans to use for FasTracks train service to Denver International Airport.

The line to DIA is overdue. When DIA was nearly completed in 1995, a light rail/commuter rail line should have already been in place. The criticisms that DIA was built closer to Nebraska than Denver would have been lessened or removed. This week, the line to DIA has been recommended by the latest study to be electrified commuter rail. The Smith Road line is the Union Pacific's main line to the east of Denver, the former Kansas Pacific line that UP rehabilitated for more traffic only a few years ago. With this increase in freight, is it reasonable to expect commuter rail service to run on time to DIA?

Clearly, the railroads will choose what is in their best interest first, considering Denver and the public second. RTD will have a hard time selling them on light rail unless they run on separate rails, which would add much to the cost of either line, but ensure timely service for its patrons. Clearly, Amtrak has proven that passenger service on a freight road is secondary and completely unreliable as far as UP and BNSF are concerned. RTD and Denver ought to spring for the extra cost now for these lines. The success of dedicated right-of-way light rail has proven it can more than support the cost such an upgrade and service will be reliable and therefore very popular with their clients. The alternative is an unreliable service, which would scare most riders away.

Denver's Southeast Corridor Grand Opening

Denver's newest addition to its light rail network, the Southeast Corridor, will have its grand opening on Friday, November 17th. Ceremonies will be held at the Lincoln Station with free rides starting at 11:00 a.m. According to Trains, on Saturday, November 18th, rides will be offered on the entire Denver light rail system.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

A Rocky Mountain Canary

John Hubert relates the following story of the Pioneer Zephyr's record-breaking 13-hour run from Denver to Chicago.
Colorado officials wanted to send along a "Rocky Mountain Canary" as a mascot to bring good luck to the trip. Train officials prepared for a bird cage in the baggage car. At the last minute the trainmen discovered that the Rocky Mountain Canary was really a burro. They hurriedly asked Mr. Budd what they should do. Mr. Budd looked around at the dignitaries and reporters who were preparing to board the train and replied, "Why not, one more jackass on this trip won't make any difference. Fix a pen in the baggage car."
A Rocky Mountain Canary was a burro that prospectors would use to carry their gear as they went into the mountains. The name was earned by the burros for their high-pitched cry from their perches high in the mountains.

Rio Grande Railfan Meet

The next Rio Grande railfan meet will be at the park in Palmer Lake on Sunday, October 1 at 10:00 AM. Bring your camera and dress for the weather. The line is currently seeing between 5 and 9 trains the last few Sundays.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Day Out With Thomas

The first of the Day Out With Thomas weekends starts tomorrow September 16th at the Colorado Railroad Museum in Golden. The next one is on September 22-24. Even though the event is sold out, the Colorado Railroad Museum is still open that day. This means that if you have a Thomas fan in your family, it is still a good idea to go out there. First, you're not paying any more than the standard admission to the museum. Second, almost all of the events are still open to museum patrons. The event tickets that are sold out buy you a 25-minute ride behind Thomas (and another engine to help him pull). For some kids, getting to watch Thomas is just as fun as riding behind him.

Parking is arranged with nearby properties and they run a shuttle to accommodate all the extra visitors to the museum. For more details, visit the Day Out With Thomas FAQ. The museum's admission is re-posted below.
  • Adults: $8.00
  • Seniors (over 60): $7.00
  • Children (2 yrs to 16 yrs): $5.00
    Children (under 2 yrs): Free
  • Family (two adults and children under 16 yrs of one family): $18.00

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Durango RailFest Coming Up


The Durango & Silverton Railfest has been wrapped into The National Narrow Gauge Convention. It begins Monday, August 21st and wraps up that Saturday, August 26th. The convention name reflects that it is not just Durango & Silverton's show anymore. An excursion on 8/21 is scheduled on D&S's sister road, the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic. Yard tours of the D&S yards and hard-to-find movies will go throughout the week. An exhibit trade show, photo and modeling contests (trains, not chicks), and other events will run throughout the week.

If you love the narrow gauge, enjoy steam and smoke, or model the Colorado railroads, this trip is definitely for you.

Georgetown Loop May Be In Serious Trouble

Only a few short weeks ago, it was reported that Colorado & Southern engine No. 9 was up and running on the Georgetown Loop. Now it seems that none of the engines on the Loop are running. Engines 9 and 12, as well as their diesel backup are all down.

For a tourist railroad to suffer such an outage at the height of tourist season is catastrophic. Negative press in Denver is only adding to the poor perception of the railroad and would-be riders are showing up in Georgetown only to find the line cold and silent. One grandfather who took his grandchildren up to ride from Denver said that next time he wasn't going to waste the trip just so his grandsons can play in a park. His sentiments are likely the feelings of the majority of tourists who have been surprised at this uncharacteristic shutdown. Additionally, one wonders if anyone at the State Historical Society is having second thoughts about their new operator.

Stay tuned for updates as they become available.


Update: As far as what's wrong with the locomotives, Eric reports, "One of the axles on #12 snaped. It was an original part. ...On the 44 tonner [diesel] - a traction motor blew. #9 was awaiting a boiler re-inspection earlier this week." No. 9 has the least problems, as it is only awaiting approval by the FRA to be put into service. The diesel will likely be next, as traction motors are easier to replace than 100 year-old steam locomotive axles.

Update: The C&S 9 is now hauling passengers on a daily basis.

Wednesday, August 2, 2006

Georgetown Loop Operates Colorado & Southern No. 9

Click here for an important update

When you hear rumors of something as big as this, you don't want to publish anything prematurely. For example, Wagon Wheel Gap has been stirring for years, but fights with the residents of Creede have nearly destroyed chances of getting the railroad up and running.

However, when I saw the photos, there's no refuting it. The Colorado & Southern narrow gauge lives once again in the mountains of Colorado!

Number 9 was built in February 1884 by Cooke for the Denver, South Park & Pacific. Originally numbered 72, the 2-6-0 Consolidation was renumbered 114 a year later in 1885. Four years later, when the DSP&P was reorganized by the Union Pacific as the Denver, Leadville, & Gunnison Railway, it retained that number. In 1893, the Union Pacific went into receivership, as did it's subsidiaries, but the DL&G obtained a separate receivership, which ended in 1898 with the formation of the Colorado & Southern. It was renumbered to 9 the following year. Two years later, it was rebuilt in 1901 and again in 1917. In the late teens, like all other C&S locomotives, it was equipped with the Ridgeway Spark Arrestor, more commonly known as a Bear Trap Stack. It hauled passengers and freight from Denver to Leadville and Breckenridge on the old Denver, Leadville & Gunnison route and from Denver to Blackhawk, Idaho Springs, Georgetown, and Silver Plume on the Colorado Central's Clear Creek branch.

From 1929 to 1939, the C&S began to scrap number 9's sister engines, numbers 4 - 13. By the late 1930's, the Great Depression and changing times had slowed the traffic to a trickle and the C&S began to dismantle most of it's narrow gauge lines and convert the rest to standard gauge. No. 9 had the distinction of hauling the last C&S narrow gauge passenger train in 1937 from Leadville to Denver. It was sent to the New York World's Fair 1939 - 1940, stored in Aurora, Illinois until the Chicago Railroad Fair in 1948 - 1949, stored again in Aurora, Illinois, and then sent to the Black Hills Central Railroad in Hill City, South Dakota for display in 1957. In 1988, the Burlington Northern, who had control of the C&S, donated the engine to the Colorado Historical Society. Two years ago, in 2004, it was sent to Uhrich Locomotive Works in Strasburg, Colorado, to be restored to full operation. According to the CHS, Uhrich casted and manufactured over 100 parts to restore the locomotive. Uhrich charged the CHS approximately $231,825. Uhrich delivered No. 9 to the Georgetown Loop Railroad around a month ago and Railstar has spent the last month fine tuning it and getting it ready.

Yesterday, on August 1st, 2006, Colorado Day, it made it's debut on the restored Georgetown Loop Railroad with photo runbys and excursions. It was a scene repeated from nearly a century ago, pulling tourists over Colorado's "far-famed Loop."

Links:
HT: StourbridgeLion, Colorado50

Friday, July 28, 2006

Beat the Denver Heat - Go Hunting For Ghost Railroads

Brian Metzler, in a special to the Rocky Mountain News, covers several former rail routes within an easy drive from Denver and the Front Range. Rollins Pass, the Switzerland Trail, and the Alpine Tunnel earn top honors. The Alpine Tunnel may dissapoint some, as the entrance has caved in. Still, efforts are underway to restore several historic structures in what would surely be the highest railroad museum in the country, if completed.

Greeley Tribune writer Tom Adams also gives a trip report of his venture up to Rollins Pass. This is a great trip from either side and you can certainly appreciate the views and avoiding the summer heat in Denver. Approaching the pass from the west side, however, gives one the chance to explore Rifle Sight Notch, a place where the rails looped over themselves by use of a trestle over a tunnel.

If you want to get up to the mountains for the day or even the weekend, there are few things better than exploring some Colorado Railroad history.

San Luis & Rio Grande Train Collides With Potato Truck

A San Luis & Rio Grande train was slammed into by a tractor-trailer rig in Blanca, Colorado on Wednesday, July 26th at about 4:30 in the afternoon after returning from it's daily trip to La Veta. The crossing was not signalized or gated, but it's assumed the crossing was marked. Most injuries were minor, but the passengers were shaken. Busses to return the passengers to Alamosa arrived only 2 hours later, which seems to be quick work on short notice. KUSA, NBCs Denver affiliate, has more. (HT: Colorado50)

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Things To Do In Denver When You're...a Railfan - This Weekend

According to Trains Unlimited Tours and the Rocky Mountain Railroad Club, historic domeliners once used on the California Zephyr will once again run on the rails that once carried them across the Rockies as part of the Rocky Mountain Express. They will be making a round trip out from California arriving in Denver on Sunday July 23, and then going back again to the left coast, leaving Denver on Tuesday the 25th.

Also, after a 25 year absence, the Lionel Collectors Club of America will hold it's 36th annual national convention in Denver the same weekend. Excursions and tours are planned for the entire week of the 23rd through the 29th. The trading hall will only be open to the public on Saturday the 29th from 9 AM to 4 PM. Admission is $5, and children 12 and under are free.

Finally, also on Saturday the 22nd, the Cheyenne Frontier Days special will be running from Denver to Cheyenne and back again in what has become an annual tradition. Union Pacific's never-retired steam engine #844 is planned to pull the heritage fleet cars. For the attendees of the Lionel convention, a separate run on Monday of the same equipment is planned.

Heritage Unit Chasers

It's been a few weeks since the unveiling of the Rio Grande Heritage unit by the Union Pacific. Three Rio Grande railfans have posted excellent pictures of the unit from out there on the line.

First, ND Holmes of DRGW.net went out and chased the unit to Milliken on an Operation Lifesaver special and took plenty of photos, as he displays on his trip report. Though this may be the first time for the unit to leave "native" rails, it still looks nice. Bob Sobol also took some pictures on the same trip. It may be the shadows, but that gray now looks almost blue.

Finally, Kevin Morgan drove up to the bottom of the tunnel route on the front range and took some great pictures of the first run of the heritage unit on the Moffat Route. History? Well that may be taking it too seriously. Still, I have waited for 23 years to see that color of gold on the rails again. It does a Grande fan good to see it again.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Steal This Banner

Time for some shameless self-promotion. If you'd like to help promote this blog, please feel free to copy this banner and use it. Please include a link back to this blog, just so folks don't get lost. Thanks!

Lax Security Prompts Concern From Industry

On one hand, one has to wonder about the wisdom of broadcasting something like this on FoxNews.com. On the other hand, hazardous chemicals roll through Colorado each day. Making sure they're safe is paramount to airport baggage checks and port scanning. It would take more than a .22 to puncture one of those tanks, but how much shielding is there on those tank cars? Particularly chilling is this remark, taken from the article:
"It's loaded, it's got graffiti painted all over the side of it. What does that tell you about security? It tells me that nobody's around to shoo them off," Smith said. "And if they've got time to paint their pictures, a terrorist's got plenty of time to plant a stack of C-4's on the side of the car and blow it up."
I know someone could easily duck in and out of a yard even while a train is waiting for a green signal and approach it with time to do something less than benevolent, given the right location and timing. Of course, this isn't the first time railroads have had to work to protect their assets. Train robberies have been around almost as long as trains themselves. The question is, what kind of solutions are railroads willing to implement? Stronger, safer cars? More cameras? I'm not willing to bet my life on such measures. It's clear by the amount of graffiti on the cars I saw the other day that these solutions aren't foolproof. Here are more recommendations, none of which the railroad industry will take seriously because it involves spending money on "Might possibly's." Railroads hate to do that.
  • Bring back the caboose - There was a reason railroads needed an extra pair of eyes on the cargo, and that reason has surfaced again. Railroads need a pair of eyes in a different location, or even two extra locations, on trains with hazardous cargo.
  • Stepped up patrols of yards - a few "No Tresspassing" signs aren't going to frighten a suicide bomber away. More patrols at every interchange, no matter how small, with larger and more accurate weapons.
  • Track inspection trucks - Run them no more than 5-10 minutes ahead of each freight carrying hazardous matierial.
  • Remove graffiti - Graffiti undermines the public's belief that the railroads are doing their job to protect their content. Getting it taken off as soon as it's found is needed to encourage the public's confidence.
Spending money on these solutions are something railroads are loathe to do. After all, "who needs brakes from that George Westinghouse character?" "Automatic couplers? They would be incompatible with our link-pin design. So our brakemen are missing a few fingers. We've never needed such things before."

It chills me to the bone to know that the railroads have threat analysis guys who actually can figure the odds of a chlorine leak and how many people it would kill. Betting the farm that such an act of terrorism isn't going to happen is inviting disaster. Clearly, the current efforts aren't enough and railroads need to do something about this before it's too late. If 9/11 threw our markets into a tizzy, imagine what 100,000 dead would do.

Friday, July 7, 2006

The Current Rail Boom: Too Much of a Good Thing?

The rise in rail traffic over the past few years has been blowing out all the stops. Freight traffic is booming. Western railroads like BNSF and UP can't hire engineers and crew fast enough. As a result, you get situations like that of a UP engineer in Texas who two years ago had been working 37 out of 55 hours and fell asleep at the controls. Compounded by his conductor's state of inebriation, he slept through two signals and collided with a BNSF train and caused a chlorine tank to rupture. In all, 3 people died and 30 were injured by the chlorine gas. The engineer lives to regret his mistakes.

Should he have even been in the cab? It's clear his conductor shouldn't have been. But such things are overlooked when you're scraping the bottom of the barrel for crews to head trains over a booming railroad. You work with what you have and you hope nothing goes wrong. Yet, in Texas, something did go wrong. Someone got caught "hoping."

Hattip: John Barnhill, www.Trainboard.com

Sunday, July 2, 2006

Gold Camp Road

Tracking ghost railroads in Colorado is a great pastime. There's even a book about it that is probably the best source for finding them, if you can find the book itself.

One road that's not-so-hidden but a fantastic drive outside of Colorado Springs is Gold Camp Road. Founded in 1899, the Colorado Springs and Cripple Creek District reached from Colorado Springs to Cripple Creek on March 23, 1901. Nicknamed "The Short Line," it became the third railroad to reach "the richest square mile on earth," but it did so with a direct approach from Colorado Springs. The rugged mountains west of Colorado Springs gave passengers very scenic views, drawing President Theodore Roosevelt to exclaim that the trip "bankrupted the English language." Tunnels, trestles, cuts, and fills were all used in driving westward into the mining town. The trestles have been replaced by high fills, but many of the tunnels and cuts still remain today. Scenic points along this route include St. Peter's Dome, Cathedral Park, and Devil's Slide.


Cathedral Park as photographed by W. H. Jackson shortly after the line opened.

To get there...
For the lower portion of Gold Camp and a hike to Helen Hunt Falls (no, not the Mad About You actress), you can follow the signs from US 24 in Old Colorado City in Colorado Springs. The trip is short because a few miles up, the road has been closed to all but foot traffic. The debate in the Colorado Springs city council to reopen this portion of the road to cars is often stirred, but little is done. If you're short on time, or you don't like hiking, skip the lower portion.

To reach the upper, more scenic portion, you have two options. The first is taking US 24 to Hwy 67 in Divide and follow the route of the Midland Terminal south until you almost reach the gambling town of Cripple Creek. Just before you decend into town, you'll pass the Molly Kathleen mine. County Road 82, Gold Camp Loop Road splits off from the highway there. The Loop road connects with Gold Camp Road proper at the other side of the loop of highway connecting Victor, Cripple Creek and Anaconda. Bring a map! From there, Gold Camp Road heads on it's scenic decent towards Colorado Springs, meeting up with Old Stage Rd for the final drop.

The other, more dramatic option is to approach it from the Springs. From the Broadmoor Hotel, head south toward the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, following the signs. You will reach a fork in the road where the road to the zoo continues to the left (south). Instead, bear right and follow Old Stage Road uphill. You will climb out of the houses and begin a long, steep, twisty and washboarded ascent to it's junction with Gold Camp Road, with plenty of scenic views of the city and plains below. Once you reach Gold Camp Road, turning right will bring you to St. Peter's Dome and the road closure. Turning left will take you towards Cathedral Park, Devil's Slide, and Cripple Creek.

Be advised: Although the trip along the upper Gold Camp Road looks like a short one, the winding road and blind curves will slow your progress. Trips making the loop from the Broadmoor area, over Gold Camp to Cripple Creek and thence up to Divide, Woodland Park, and down to Colorado Springs have been known to take an entire afternoon if you have a "foamer" railfan aboard, or, regrettably, behind the wheel.

One final note: this drive is absolutely gorgeous when the aspens are turning. A side trip for a picnic in Mueller State Park is hard to beat, too.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Northern Mountains

This is the fourth in a series of posts on the passenger train opportunities in Colorado for the summer 2006 season. Part one focused on the Northern Front Range and part two addressed the Southern Front Range, both served by the I-25 corridor. Part three looked at the venerable narrow gauge opportunities in the Southern Mountains. Part four will go into the

Northern Mountains
In the mountains west of Denver, there was a gold rush that began in 1859 and a silver rush soon followed. Railroads like the Colorado Central and the Denver, Northwestern & Pacific drove deep into the heart of the mountains, using narrow and standard gauges to reach the gold and silver ore that came by the ton out of the Rockies. Today, remnants large and small make up the lines that showcase Colorado's beautiful and majestic mountains of north central and northwestern Colorado.

Amtrak's California Zephyr - In the late 1940s, traveling aboard a sleek, streamlined train was exciting, a premier mode of travel when air travel was a novelty and jet liners were still on the drawing boards. In 1949, the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy, Denver & Rio Grande Western, and the Western Pacific began combined service over the three railroads between Chicago, Illinois, and Oakland California. Passengers aboard the new California Zephyr discovered the scenic Riders aboard the California Zephyr in April 1951 - Courtesy WHD Denver Public Librarywonders of places like the Colorado Rocky Mountains, the vast Utah deserts and the California Sierras. Riders departing Denver in the morning would ride in comfort on the Rio Grande, climbing the Front Range through the Tunnel District, thought the 6.2 mile-long Moffat Tunnel and down the western slope though Gore, Byers, Glenwood, and Ruby Canyons. By the evening they would reach Salt Lake City. It was stylish, beautiful, and comfortable. However, by the late 60s, the age of jet travel was in full swing and ridership dwindled. In 1970, the ICC (predecessor to the Federal Surface Transportation Board) finally allowed the Western Pacific to drop it's portion of the passenger route after WP repeadedly said it could no longer afford to continue service. The CB&Q continued to run their portion under the name California Service, although the train never approached the west coast, terminating as the Rio Grande Zephyr in Salt Lake.Image Copyright Colorado Conservative 2006 In 1971, Amtrak took over the nations remaining passenger service, dropping the majority of trains, never to be resumed. One route that was selected was the California Zephyr. Yet the Rio Grande opted not to join Amtrak because of the fees. As a result, Amtrak ran a San Francisco Zephyr over the UP, and the Rio Grande continued to run it's RGZ service 6 times a week, alternating daily East-West runs so that only one trainset needed to be used. This author rode the last trip of the RGZ in 1983 aboard a Vista Dome. That year, the Rio Grande entered Amtrak, which began an undistinguished era of service over much of the original route, with a few exceptions in California.

Today, passengers can ride aboard the Amtrak version and take in the scenery aboard a coach, sleeper, diner or "Sightseer Observation Lounge," Amtrak's successor to the dome cars. Board early in Denver and grab a seat -- first come, first served -- in the lounge car on the right side of the train to enjoy a spectacular view. A popular trip is from Denver to Glenwood Springs for a few days, soaking in the mineral springs. Fares for adults, seniors, and children vary with the season and other factors that impact intercity travel. Trains depart Union Station in Denver daily, with stops in Fraser (Winter Park), Granby (Grand Lake & Hot Sulphur Springs), Glenwood Springs, and Grand Junction. A route guide (pdf) is available.

Georgetown Loop Railroad - A short, 45 minute drive up I-70 west of Denver brings you Georgetown, a former mining town and home of the Hotel de Paris, where a cranky chef named Louis Depuy once produced world-famous cuisine for customers that fell under his good graces. It is also home to a recreation of a stretch of the narrow gauge Colorado Central Railroad, which was then under the influence of Jay Gould and the Union Pacific, who used it to access the rich silver ores coming from the mines along Clear Creek. In order to drive the track from Georgetown to Silver Plume in 1884, a system of curves, bridges and a high trestle had to be built in order to ease the proposed grade from 6% to a more negotiable 4%. In the process the railroad crossed over itself nearly 100 feet above the lower grade, forming the Georgetown Loop. Promoted in flyers across America and worldwide, tourists flocked to ride the famous loop and ride the neighboring Argentine Central to the top of Mt. McClellan. After the Great Depression, the line was abandoned and in World War II, the trestle was dismantled for scrap iron to fight the war. When I-70 was being constructed, the route was intentionally diverted above the route of this historic railroad on the insistance of the Colorado Historic Society in order to preserve the possibility of restoring the famed loop to operation. In 1973, the Colorado Historic Society, partnering with the UP, began reconstructing the loop from Devil's Gate, a short distance west of Georgetown, up to Silver Plume. In 1984, a century after the loop was originally built, construction was complete and service, complete with steam engines, resumed. In 2004, the operator's lease was not renewed and for a brief time, it looked as if the railroad would cease operations. A new operator, Railstar, stepped up and secured the engines and equipment in time for the new season and once again the whistle of a steam engine echoes down the Clear Creek valley. On a side note, the domain www.georgetownloop.com is owned by the previous operator of the line and, as a symptom of the bad relations between them and the Colorado Historical Society, has not sold the domain name to either the CHS or Railstar, using it instead to divert ridership from the Georgetown Loop and promote their other railroad, the Royal Gorge Route.

Visitors can board the train in either Georgetown or Silver Plume for a ride over the loop. Seating is unreserved, with covered and open gondolas for riders to take in the beauty. A slow pass over the high trestle is obviously the best part of the trip, but riders will also be pleasantly surprised to find the refreshing river crossings and ride through quiet glades of pine and aspen to be very enjoyable. Tickets are $17.50 for adults and $12.00 for children. With four or five departure times per day at one station or the other, it's hard to find a time not to ride. Riders can also purchase a ticket to the Lebanon Mine, accessible only by the train, for and additional $8.00 and $5.50 respectively. On a final note, if there is one train trip in Colorado for families with small children, this is it. The short trip length, open seating, affordability, and convenience to the Front Range make this a winner.
Railroad Adventures visit to this location in 2004 and 1992. (Note that both trips are with the previous operator.)

Leadville, Colorado & Southern - Under the Denver, South Park & Pacific Railroad, a narrow gauge line was driven over Boreas Pass south of Breckenridge, down into Dillon, and then through Frisco and over Fremont Pass and down into Leadville. By reaching Leadville in 1884, the DSP&P had made itself a target of Jay Gould and the Union Pacific, who were eager to taste the profits of the Leadville mines. Once Gould acquired the railroad, he had no need to drive the Colorado Central further west and the line of the Georgetown Loop stopped at Graymont (now Bakerville) below Loveland Pass. Both the CC and DSP&P lines would find freedom from Gould's control in the reorganization of 1899 into the Colorado & Southern. Eventually, the C&S came under the control of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy in 1908, later the Burlington Northern. In 1938, much of the C&S narrow gauge system was abandoned, leaving the narrow gauge line from Leadville to Climax isolated. Still, narrow gauge trains soldiered on, serving the mine at Climax until 1943 when the line was standardized. America needed Climax's molybdenum to harden steel for World War II, and a streamlined transfer process was necessary. Thus the line to Climax was standard gauged. Steam, however, continued to serve until 1962. Since the Union Pacific closed the former Rio Grande Tennessee Pass route in 1997, the line has been entirely cut off from the railroad world.

Today, one of the last steam engines to serve on the line sits on static display outside the Leadville, Colorado & Southern depot. Sold to a local couple in 1987 by the Burlington Northern for the whopping sum of $10, the line has been slowly and lovingly rehabilitated on a limited budget. Like the Georgetown Loop, open seating is in covered and open gondolas, but unlike the Loop, the LC&S is standard gauge, meaning wider cars and a larger and, well, dieselized feel to the trip. The line up the valley to Climax isn't especially scenic, but it is pretty, nonetheless. Riders coming from I-70 over Fremont Pass will find that they already traveled the route to get to Leadville. A GP-9 diesel backs the train up the pass and then comes back down with little fanfare. When last ridden in the late 90s, the concession car bathrooms were unfortunately an unpleasant. Once you reach a certain point, the rails seem to wither and the train halts about a half-mile short of the pass summit. Technically, the rails do continue up to the mine, but the poor condition of the track leaves it at high risk for derailment, something unpopular with tourists and railroaders alike. The diesel engine, the lack of exclusive scenery (no other way to see it), and the "on-the-cheap" condition of the equipment all make it difficult to justify the fares of $26.50 for adults and $15.00 for children. Even paying an extra $35.00 for a ride in the cab or an extra $25.00 for a ride in the caboose seems too much. For the railfan, this is a good ride, not a great one.
Railroad Adventures visit to this location in 2003.

Glenwood Railroad Museum
- The Western Colorado chapter of the NRHS has created a railroad museum in the east side of the depot in Glenwood Springs, about 150 miles west of Denver on I-70. A large scale model railroad, photos, and dining car china are all on display there. Specialized history is also featured, including a display devoted to the South Canyon Coal tram, Marble Tram, Treasury Mountain, Crystal River and the Crystal River & San Juan. No rolling stock is stored there, but they do have a D&RGW Fairmont A-6 speeder. A number of their patrons are riders of the California Zephyr, stopping there twice daily. Their hours are 12 - 4 PM, Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday, although they may close on Monday during July and part of August due to the Union Pacific rail replacement projects, which will divert the Zephyr through Wyoming. Fare is a requested $1.00 adult donation, with all children under 12 free.




Other posts in this series:

Mato Vega Fire at 85% Containment

Just heard last night that the Mato Vega fire is 85% contained, which means the direct threat to the SL&RG La Veta Pass line is negligable at this point.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Mato Vega Fire Still North Of Highway

An update from Friday: The Mato Vega wildfire on the north side of La Veta Pass has charred an estimated 13,153 acres. Crews are working to contain the fire, and they have it 45% contained. They are not on top of it yet. They are planning a spot burn, lighting it with a helicopter mounted heli-torch to keep it north of Highway 160 and out of a subdivision. The highway is open, but they are using a pilot car to guard against accidents from smoke and firefighter traffic.

Arkansas Students Write About the Durango & Silverton

I just found an interesting article from some college students from Arkansas taking a journey across the American Southwest. They took a ride on the Durango & Silverton. Their article illustrates why it is so important for future generations to get to experience these tourist lines. Clearly, these kids are learning in a way they will never forget.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Wildfires Threaten La Veta Pass Line

In a little less than a month into its inaugural season, the operator of Colorado's two newest passenger touist trains, the San Luis & Rio Grande, has run into the bane of tourist seasons: wildfires. The Mato Vega Wildfire is just north of US 160 on La Veta Pass, on the other side of the highway. The trouble is that the fire has closed the highway for 3 days. It just reopened 6 hours ago and will only be open for travel at night. During the day, travelers will be escorted due to the heavy fire fighter traffic. This only bodes ill for the SL&RG, which is dependent on US 160 for passengers from the Front Range and the east. There are no convenient parallel routes, with drivers needing to connect with US 285 from 73 miles to the north at Poncha Springs or from 91 miles to the south at Taos, NM. There is no telling when the highway will be back to normal operations although yesterday's weather helped.

Other wildfires are burning in the state, sparked mostly by lightning from clouds dropping very little of the wet stuff. The dry conditions has prompted Governor Owens to ban all fires on state-owned lands except those in fire rings. If these conditions continue, there is the possibility of a repeat of the 2002 wildfire hysteria that caused a total shut down of the C&TS and limited operations on the D&S. Given the limited scope of the Governor's initial ban and the reasonably healthy snows from last winter, however, such draconian measures seem unlikely. The forests, while dry, are not nearly as parched as they were in 2002. Tourists who plan on coming should keep their plans as is for the forseeable future.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

More Heritage Unit Shots

Here are some more shots of the DRGW Heritage Unit:

Nose with the "Main Line Thru The Rockies" herald

Unveiling...with a lot of help!

Tarped
The Riddler-like question mark on the side was the working of Mike Iden of UP.

Control stand inside the cab

UP Is Tipping Its Hand

At the unveiling of DRGW-inspired heritage unit 1989, it was mentioned from the podium that the unit for Chicago & Northwestern (CNW) will be unveiled a month from now, and the Southern Pacific (SP) will be unveiled in August. Like the Grande locomotive, they will probably be done with some pomp and ceremony in their home districts.

The UP tipped its hand a little at the theme of its two remaining heritage schemes by posting banners at the unveiling. Here are the banners for each road:





Chicago & North Western

Southern Pacific

As you can see, the logo at left gives a preview of the theme of the design for the existing four locomotives (click the heading for a view of the locomotive). It stands to reason, therefore, that the other two will likely follow suit.

Guessing's Over - The D&RGW Heritage Unit Is Unveiled!

The guessing is over and we've got the pictures. Kevin Morgan and I -- along with at least 40 other photographers -- were there for the unveiling of the UP's new heritage scheme for the Denver & Rio Grande Western. Here's the unit at the final unveiling taken with my own paltry 3 Mpx camera.


As you can see, the paint scheme is largely derived from the 40s and 50s era F-units with gray on top, just like the F-units and four stripes down the length, also from the cowl scheme. The only nod to the freight, black-with-gold design is the placement and size of the Rio Grande speed lettering down the side, which was what was used on the GP-30s and -35s purchased in the 50s. This was before the billboard style with the little "Rio," big "Grande" lettering.

The large mountains occupying the nose are taken from the Main Line Thru the Rockies logo. It's entirely appropriate to do this for a one-of-a-kind paint job as it emphasizes the territory traveled by the Rio Grande. However, it's pretty easy to suppose that the Rio Grande itself would have never gone to such lavish extremes for standard road units.

The impression from most of the people I talked to at the unveiling is that they were pleased with the design. No one commented that there was too much grey or that they should have done a coal black unit. One possibility for their not going with an orange and black unit would be their reluctance to look too much like their competitor that has begun to take on an orange and black swoosh logo, which isn't different enough from the speed lettering of the Grande.

Here's a close-up of the Rio Grande lettering from on board the new SD-70ACe.


Kevin has posted better, much better shots at his ColoradoRailfan.com site. Go take a look.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Guess What's Under The Tarp?


A Denver railfan just snapped this tonight of a new arrival. I wonder what's under that tarp...

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Southern Mountains

This is the third in a series of posts about the recreational opportunities in Colorado for railroad enthusiasts. Part one was the Northern Front Range. Part two focused on the Southern Front Range. Part three will focus on the...

Southern Mountains
The southern mountains -- for the purpose of this post -- extends westward from the front range bounded by South Park on the northeast, the Sangre de Cristo Mountains on the southeast and follows the 39th Parallel to Uncompahgre National Forest in the west and down to the Four Corners Monument.

Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad - Originally a portion of the Narrow Gauge Circle, the line preserves one of the most picturesque sections of the line from Alamosa to Durango, abandoned by the Rio Grande in the late 1960s. A labor of love by countless volunteers, the Cumbres line runs from Antonito, 30 miles south of Alamosa, climbing up through Toltec Gorge, over Cumbres Pass (10,015 ft ASL), and down the 4% grade to Chama, New Mexico, a total of 64 miles and the longest narrow gauge railroad in Colorado. The route is as varied as it is scenic. Desert sagebrush, alpine meadows, mountain glades, and rugged gorges are all encountered on this day-long ride. The line is owned jointly by the States of Colorado and New Mexico and operated by a third-party private contractor in close coordination with the volunteers. Although funding has been an issue in the past, a fresh infusion of cash from Colorado may give the C&TS the boost it has needed since the 2002 wildfires.

Riders can board at either Chama, NM, or Antonito 7 days a week for a full run over the C&TS from now until October 15, 2006, although, depending on the day, you may end up taking 90 minute ride by motorcoach from one station to the other to board the train. It is also possible to take a trip to the halfway point at Osier and return to your originating station by train. A coach ticket to ride the train will cost $59 per adult and $30 per child ages 2 - 11, with lunch at Osier included. Coach is reserved seating, but riders are encouraged to visit the open gondola car. Travel by motorcoach to complete your trip and the fare rises to a total of $72 per adult and $36 per child. Parlor Car tickets are $115 per person, and their bearers ride in a plush coach with open seating and attendant service.

The Cumbres and Toltec Scenic is a railfan's delight. Passenger trains are double- and even triple-headed from Chama to Cumbres, to the extreme delight of steam fans. The standard day-long trip is not for every small child, so the C&TS folks have come up with a shorter, 3-hour trip called the Cinder Express on Thursdays. Tickets are $44 for adults and $22 per child ages 2 - 11. Whether indulging the little rainfan or the little railfan in all of us, the Cumbres is a special railroad that brings everyone a vital piece of Colorado railroading history.
Railroad Adventures visit to this location in 2005, 1992, and 1979.

San Luis & Rio Grande Railroad
- Shortline railroad running former Denver & Rio G
rande Western trackage west of Walsenberg, Colorado, climbing over La Veta Pass into the San Luis Valley and Alamosa. Only a few weeks into its inaugural season running scenic passenger service, the SL&RG has initiated two separate trips.

A wide array of ticket options are available, but the primary s
ervice, the San Luis Express, runs from Alamosa, over La Veta Pass to the town of La Veta for a lunch stop and then back to Alamosa. This is a rare-mileage treat for the Colorado railfan, because a significant portion of the La Veta Pass line is isolated from the outside world. Tickets from Alamosa run $40 per adult, $25 per child, and $30 for seniors.

A secondary service, the Toltec Gorge Limited, is designed to serve passengers from Alamosa to Antonito in time to ride the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic and allows them to return to Alamosa that evening. Combined tickets for both the Toltec Gorge Limited and the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic may be purchased through the San Luis & Rio Grande. This service is ideal for those taking advantage of the inexpensive lodging in Alamosa. Click here for the opening weekend announcement.

Gunnison Pioneer Museum - Otto Perry, a legendary Colorado railroad photographer, filmed the last days of the Marshall Pass. Featuring prominently in these films and photos is the Denver and Rio Grande Western
class C-16 engine #268. Cosmetically restored to its "bumblebee" paint scheme and sheltered in a new pavilion, the 268, some rolling stock including a caboose, along with a water tower from Marshall Pass and depot relocated from Sargents to the east, are all part of a larger outdoor museum exhibit. Admission to the museum is $7 for adults and $1 for children ages 2 - 11.
Railroad Adventures visit to this location in 1991.

Cimarron Canyon Rail Exhibit -
Directly west of Gunnison on US 50 near the former cattle railhead town of Cimarron, the sister of engine 268, number 278 is parked on an isolated trestle spanning part of Cimarron Canyon. Nestled deep in an arm of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, the static display is at once beautiful and lonesome, the epitome of Colorado railroading. Cut off from access at either end, the trestle functions as a guard against vandals with a moat of air between it and the road. Free.
Railroad Adventures visits to this location in 2005 and 1991.

Ridgway Railroad Museum - Continue west on US 50, head south at Montrose and you'll come to Ridgway, former northern terminal of the fabled Rio Grande Southern. With exterior static displays and a small indoor exhibit, the museum is best known as the home of the replica of Motor #1, the original Galloping Goose. It was completed in 2000, 69 years after the original Motor was built. Open on summer weekends with guided tours. Admission is free but donations are clearly welcome.

Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad & Museum - Perhaps the most famous of all Colorado railroad trips, the Durango & Silverton links the famous southwestern Colorado town of Durango with the mining town of Silverton. In the 1950s and 60s, the Rio Grande's days of narrow gauge railroading were winding down. Highways and airways sapped nearly all traffic from the line, yet one particular stretch of narrow gauge was experiencing a growth of passenger traffic. A small train run once a week called the Silverton Mixed began to experience a boom of railfans interested in riding and seeing the beauty of the very scenic line. It was the future of the railroad. Over the next two decades, the Rio Grande developed the train, expanding service to daily trains and then running them in sections. By the time the Rio Grande sold the line in 1980, the Durango train was well established, not just in the world of railfans, but in the general tourism landscape.

Today, even the most jaded tourist will still look up from their laptop and latte to see the black engine trailing a string of Grande-gold cars behind it. It is a pretty sight, one that has repeated itself up to four times a day on the rails that follow the Animas River between Durango and Silverton.
While the line makes its money hauling tourists, it also acknowledges the railfans and "rivet counters" with an annual "Railfest" that includes specials such the RGS Goose No. 5 and the wood-burning Eureka 4-4-0 from the Eureka & Palisade. This year, the Railfest will be held August 23-27. There is also a fall photo special on September 23-24.

A run to Silverton and back is an all-day affair. While the coaches are historically accurrate -- some of the rolling stock dates back to before 1900 -- with two-and-two seating, they are not especially accommodating. Lucius Beebe wrote that using the restrooms onboard was a feat that would have amused Houdini. He wasn't far off. With luggage racks that are hardly more than ornamental, the coaches have only one place to store any gear, beneath your seat. Additionally, the windows do not loan themselves to pictures and riders are frequently seen "dogging" out the windows to get a shot of the Animas Canyon scenery.
Those desperate to get a shot from one of the cars' platforms will be disappointed to find an attendant shooing them off. The camera hounds are much better off reserving a seat aboard one of the gondolas or aboard the new Silver Vista. Lunch can be packed or purchased in one of the restaurants in Silverton. Some of the restaurants have character, others have little more than burgers and rushing waitstaff. Either way, there is little chance that you'll miss your ride back to Silverton; the engine will whistle loud enough to make the hillsides echo for seconds afterward. Visitors to Silverton might be surprised to find that the town was once served by no less than four railroads at one time, each built to haul ore and supplies. Today, the mines are all closed down and the Durango & Silverton is the town's main reason to exist.

Tickets to ride a typical summer train are $62 for adults and $31 for children ages 5-11. Returning by motorcoach from Silverton to Durango are $7 more, which is a real consideration for parents of small children who by 2 PM are pretty tired of riding. It's possible -- but not probable -- to get in a motorcoach on standby. Premium tickets for First Class and Presidential Class are $109 and $129 respectively.

The Durango & Silverton is quintessentially Colorado: historic, scenic, colorful, and a little touristy. It's a memorable experience to ride on the High Line above the deepest parts of the Animas Canyon and quite a beautiful ride, with scenery not seen any other way.
Railroad Adventures visits to this location in 2005 and 1992.

Galloping Goose Historical Society of Dolores - In the 1930s, the Rio Grande Southern had to get inventive to survive the Great Depression. Among other cost saving measures, rail busses were constructed out of old automobiles and freight cars to give the RGS its fleet of Galloping Geese. In 1952, after the railroad finally dissolved, the RGS donated Galloping Goose No. 5 to the town of Dolores. In 1998, volunteers with the Galloping Goose Historical Society of Dolores restored the Goose. Because none of the RGS route between Ridgway and Durango survives, the society has taken to running the Goose on non-native, yet scenic rails of the Durango & Silverton and the Cumbres & Toltec. While the Goose is on display at the depot between these runs, and while there is an interior display at the depot with artifacts from the RGS, no website is available to give hours or information. E-mails should be directed to dolores@zone.net. There was a plan in 2001 to run track 9 miles out of Dolores for the Goose to have its own track, but nothing more has come of it.
One loyal fan at Narrowgauge.org has committed several pages to the wanderings of this Goose.

Other posts in this series:

Operation Lifesaver Photos

Thought the Ski Train isn't scheduled to begin service to Winter Park until July 15, Operation Lifesaver made use of Ansco's equipment to take a run up the Moffat Tunnel Route to Steamboat Springs on June 8th. Kevin Morgan has two photos of the run at Blue Mountain and Coal Creek Canyon's approach to Tunnel 1.

Peeking Under The Wrapper

Were you one of those kids that peeked under the wrappings at Christmastime? Well, someone posted a photo on Railpictures.net of the DRGW Heritage Unit to be unveiled next week in Denver (see previous post). Yeah, I know it's still wrapped, but I definitely see some paint peeking through on the pilot and crew ladders. It's going to be hard waiting for Saturday.

The unit is making its way to Denver. It will be in Coubluffs (Council Bluffs?), IA at 6:15 AM Sunday.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Eyesore?

Union Pacific Shane McComber Vail Daily

Is this an eyesore?

The town of Avon believes it may be. In an era where coal is assuming new levels of dominance as an energy source, Union Pacific is planning on storing 500 coal cars in the yard at Minturn, the former helper terminal for the "rail banked" -- read: not quite abandoned, but almost -- Tennessee Pass route between Pueblo and Dotsero on the Colorado River. While this could be part of a power play to the Colorado Public Utilities Commission to rub out two grade crossings in a planned development in Avon, UP officials claim that such talk is "a very bad rumor."

The town of Avon, playground to the rich and famous, has already made it illegal for a railcar to stop in a grade crossing. Next week, on June 13th, the town of Avon plans to make it illegal to park railcars anywhere in their city limits for more that two days. It's called a nuisance law, and it's designed to keep the town looking nice. It's also a symbol of the conflict of two different industries that have come to be largely at odds with each other.

Only 120 years ago, your town could die if you didn't get a railroad. Today, it could die if the railroad stays. Minturn, just down the road from Avon, desperately wants to join her sisters as "resort town." Who's holding her back? Why the big, bad railroad, of course. If the UP stores it's railcars there, then in the words of one Edwards resident, Kyle Bolio, "Minturn's going to look like a dump."

Is it really that bad? Towns like Colorado Springs, Winter Park, and Glenwood Springs have rails that sing with traffic, in most cases running right through the center of town, and it doesn't seem to be holding them back on property values or tourists. Could there be something else afoot in the Colorado Rockies? Are new residents suffering from ferroequinophobia? Are their concerns about occasional train noise and the danger to children near the right of way any more valid that towns and cities that see 20 trains per day?

The good news is that UP never fully abandoned the Tennessee Pass right-of-way. Had they done so, 7-story condos would have gone up the next week in that little valley. Railroads continue to be the lifeblood of our nation. The moment a line is abandoned, it is lost forever. Then when the need arises for a rail line, as it inevitably will with continued growth of the American economy, there won't be one there to reactivate and use to ship the needed commodities. No, the UP needs to hang on to Tennessee Pass, a key crossing of the Continental Divide, if only to stick in there as a standby line for the potential future of Colorado and the West.

hat tip to John Barnhill of Trainboard.com

Monday, June 5, 2006

Rio Grande Heritage Unit 1989 Confirmed

As a follow-up to my previous post, I did some checking with UP and they will be unveiling the new Denver & Rio Grande Western heritage unit in Denver on June 17. The bad news: This event is not open to the public, only employees and media. The good news is that the UP folks will be sending it around the region's rails so there will be plenty of time to film and/or photograph it in action. Get those cameras ready!

Ouray Caboose Moved for Restoration

Long a feature of Ouray Hot Springs Park, Denver & Rio Grande Western narrow gauge caboose number 0575 was relocated to the Ridgway Railroad Museum for restoration. On May 30, 2006, the caboose was loaded onto a semi flatbed trailer and trucked over US 550 to the museum grounds at Ridgway. The caboose will remain the property of Ouray County Historical Society, but all mainenance will be done by the museum. Visit the Ridgway Railroad Museum site for details along with pictures of the move.

Thursday, June 1, 2006

D&RGW Heritage Unit #1989

It's unconfirmed, but apparently Union Pacific will be unveiling their Denver & Rio Grande Western heritage unit UP 1989 in Denver on June 17th. According to John Barnhill of Trainboard.com,
The June 17th unveiling of the Denver Rio-Grande Western unit will be in Denver from 11:30 AM to 3:30PM at 1400 W. 52nd. Ave., behind the superintendents office building. Hot dogs, hamburgers, fixins', soda, cotton candy and snow cones will be served. The mini train will be on site offering rides, and also a variety of games to be played while adults can participate in health screenings, blood pressure and cholesterol checks. A engine bell raffle with proceeds which go to the Friend-to-Friend Network.
I will be watching for confirmation...although nothing yet has shown up on the UP press releases.

Update 6/5/06 - Confirmed, but not open to the public.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

San Luis & Rio Grande To Start Passenger Service This Weekend!

I could pretend that I was holding back on you just for dramatic effect, but I just found out.

The San Luis & Rio Grande Railroad is beginning passenger service between Alamosa and Antonito as the Toltec Gorge Limited and between Alamosa and LaVeta Pass as the San Luis Express. This weekend (May 27) marks the return of scheduled passenger service to this "rare mileage" in Colorado, not seen by regular passengers in over 50 years.

The two routes can be ridden independently of each other. It's also possible to purchase through tickets from Alamosa to Osier or Chama, changing trains in Antonito onto the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad. Basing the routes out of Alamosa is very beneficial because 30 years after the rehabilitation of the C&TS, Antonito -- a single attraction town -- has been unable to develop the necessary facilities to host tourists riding the C&TS rails. Alamosa has numerous motels and other accommodations because of the added attraction of the Great Sand Dunes and it's central location on US 160 and US 285.

Unfortunately, this configuration will only allow a 2 day trip from LaVeta to Chama instead of a same day trip, although theoretically, you would have to get up pretty early (o' dark 30) to be able to travel the whole route in 24 hours. It's better anyway to buy two tickets from La Veta to Alamosa and then the next day from Alamosa to Chama because it will break up the trip a little leaving riders fresh for the second leg.

Round trips from Alamosa on both lines are also available, running over LaVeta Pass to the town of LaVeta for lunch and shopping and out to Antonito and back for the morning and evening connections with the C&TS. These are significantly lower than the C&TS route, mostly because diesels cost less to run and maintain, along with the fact that it is an active freight line that sees other revenue than just the passengers, defraying maintenance costs. Both routes are historic, however, and the ticket agreement shows that both railroads expect to profit from each other's business. It brings to mind the adage from Ecclesiastes, "Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves." A single log on the fire will quickly go out; two logs will keep each other going.

On a side note, I may be speaking from ignorance, but it always remains possible that the C&TS could strike an agreement to spike down a third rail between Alamosa and Antonito. However, the cost for new coaling and water facilities through to Alamosa would be prohibitive until the LaVeta Pass line establishes itself. Still, being able to pace the train on 285 like they did 50 years ago is a fantasy I haven't quite given up on.



Links