Sunday, May 28, 2006

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.


Sunday, May 21, 2006

Friday, May 19, 2006

Final Demise of Rio Grande's Aspen Branch

Aspen is a home for the jetsetting Hollywood elite who like to ski or merely pretend they ski. They have created their paradise where everything is peaceful and serene. They would never tolerate anything like a railroad running through their town.

You'd never know it, but Aspen once wanted a railroad. They actually got two. In 1887, the Denver and Rio Grande and the Colorado Midland were in a race to reach the town and its wealth of mining ore. The Rio Grande built in from it's Tennessee Pass line through Glenwood Springs. The Midland pierced the divide west of Leadville beneath Hagerman Pass and came into the valley at Basalt and paralleled the Rio Grande's line south into town.

Today, the echoes of steam whistles have long faded from the Roaring Fork Valley. The Midland was the first to pull out in 1919 when it abandoned nearly 200 miles of track between Divide, Colorado and New Castle, west of Glenwood Springs on the Colorado River. This was an all-out abandonment of the entire line, preserving only the track between Colorado City (near Colorado Springs) and the Cripple Creek mining district as the Midland Terminal Railway.

The rumble of diesels has likewise vanished. The Rio Grande continued to service the line but as the 80s and 90s wore on, little if any traffic originated on the line. The last action the line saw was a speeder excursion in 2002 by the Western Colorado Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society, covered by ND Holmes of For years before and after the speeder trip, Aspen's Roaring Fork Transportation Authority has been working on using up the railroad right-of-way one way or another, including proposing light rail and even an old fashioned trolley. Property owners have taken histrionics to new heights fighting off one proposal after another. Finally, it appears they have a solution: the dreaded Rails-to-Trails. Why have a light rail line to alleviate traffic on Highway 82 when you can walk, right?

According to the Vail Daily News,
A railroad salvage company, Tie Yard of Omaha, will pull up the tracks and ties beginning at the end of this month. The Authority will receive $1.6 million for track and tie salvage between the Orrison Distributing warehouse south of Glenwood Springs and Woody Creek
This scrapping of the last remnants of the Rio Grande Aspen Branch will remove the last tracks in Pitkin County, which once boasted not only the Rio Grande and the Colorado Midland, but the fabled Crystal River & San Juan Railway. The CR&SJ had the unique distinction of hauling marble for several national monuments including the Lincoln Memorial from the quarries above Carbondale.

A piece of Colorado railroading fades into memory at the end of this month. It's just not Aspen's style.

Ft. Collins Coloradoan Article on Colorado Railroad Museum

The Ft. Collins paper The Coloradoan ran an article publicizing the Colorado Railroad Museum. It's a good piece that makes you want to go up to Golden and run around up there. Take a look.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

RGS Goose No. 5 to Cumbres & Toltec in June

According to a flyer, Rio Grande Southern Goose No. 5 will return to the Cumbres and Toltec on June 7-13, 2006. Reservations and information can be had by calling 888-CUMBRES.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Southern Front Range

This is the second in a series of posts about the recreational opportunities in Colorado for railroad enthusiasts. This section will focus on the...

Southern Front Range
The southern Front Range of Colorado extends south of Monument hill and roughly parallels I-25 all the way to Raton Pass. The mountains viewed along this spectacular piece of highway include the Rampart Range,
Pikes Peak -- also known as "America's Mountain" because Katherine Lee Bates wrote America the Beautiful after journeying to the summit -- and the Spanish Peaks, twin mountains rising abruptly from the plains.

Cripple Creek & Victor Narrow-Gauge Railroad - Cross between a mining train and it's "bigger" narrow-gauge cousins that has grown from relative obscurity thanks in large part to the casino gambling district in neighboring Cripple Creek. A grade, re-gauged from 3 feet to 2 feet allows diminutive trains pulled by mostly German engines to roll along a two-mile section of track just outside of Cripple Creek. This railroad could be called "touristy" and even a little "kitschy." Those looking to spend an hour aboard a "colorful" train listenting to a tour guide with a narrative will not be disappointed. Adults are $10.50, children ages 3-12 are $6.00 and seniors (65+) are given a whole dollar discount off the adult fare.
Railroad Adventures visit to this location in 1984.

Manitou & Pikes Peak Railway - Sighted by Zebulon Pike 200 years ago in 1806, Pikes Peak became a landmark for settlers travelling westward across the plains. Less than a century after it's sighting, Spencer Penrose had financed a railway to the top of the mountain that Pike believed to be unclimbable. Because most railroads lose adhesion above grades between 4% and 7%, the railway was built as a cog railway. A third rail was spiked down with stagge
red teeth that would be gripped by a cog wheel mounted on the engine's axle. The result was a railroad that was able to shove a carload of tourists to the top of the 14,110 foot mountain in half the time it took by donkey, the other popular mode of transportation up to the top.

Today, the motive power has switched from oil-fired steam engin
es to Swiss-built rail diesel cars, although steam engine #4 is still fired up for the occasional special. The train is scheduled to run all year long, but trips between November and May could be canceled due to snow or other reasons. The line is kept open using a large plow with a snowblower-type impeller. The experience is much more favorable in the summer. Click here for rates Those making the journey from out of state may wish to take note that the altitude change is significant for a few hours of travel and some have been known to experience altitude sickness. Giving yourself a day in Colorado Springs or Manitou Springs before going up, along with plenty of water and rest, will help fight it off. My own experience with altitude sickness during my first trip as a boy up this route was not a pleasant one. Take your time to make sure you enjoy it.

Off-peak rates are $29 for adults and children ages 3-12 are $16. Peak season rates (July 1 - August 20) are adults at $31 and children at $16.50. Printing an online coupon will reduce your rate nicely. The depot is located in Manitou Springs up Ruxton Ave in Ruxton Canyon.
Railroad Adventures visit to this location in 2003.

Pueblo Railway Museum - Static display museum. Like the Boulder County Railway Historical Society to the north, the Pueblo Railway Foundation has accumulated a decent collection of cars and engines and stored them in a historic railroad location, in this case the Pueblo Depot. The depot itself is largely untouched by time. Combine with this the other historic railway structures, as well as the Riverwalk and a prime location on the UP-BNSF Joint Line, and this a hidden gem for railfans and their families. Best of all, it's free.

Royal Gorge Route Railroad - When the UP bought out the Rio Grande (Southern Pacific), the merger favored the Moffat Tunnel Route over the parallel crossing of the Continental Divide at Tennesee Pass, which was "rail banked" or mothballed. The Rio Grande's hard won route through the Royal Gorge would sit unused by freight traffic after experiencing a boom when the Rio Grande acquired rights from Pueblo to Kansas City. Montana Rail Link was interested in acquiring the route, but the deal never materialized. The owners of the corporation running the trains on the Georgetown Loop Railroad were interested in running trains through the Royal Gorge. It would be the first passenger traffic this stretch of historic rail would see since the Rio Grande discontinued the Scenic Limited (Rio Grande trains 1 and 2) 30 years before.

Building on the Rio Grande's heritage, the Royal Gorge Route has former Canadian F-units painted in a scheme similar to the Rio Grande's although they haven't gotten the color exactly right. Additionally, they have a GP-7 and an SD-9, both painted in the Rio Grande's gold-and-black freight unit scheme, currently sitting in the yard at Canon City (pronounced "Canyon City). Since beginning service, the Royal Gorge Route has slowly grown, adding classes and services like dinner trains and themed excursions. New this year, they've added three full-length dome cars to the roster, purchased from Holland America Lines. Passengers will have the ability to view the suspension bridge 1,000 feet above them while sitting in their seats for the first time in decades.

Trains depart the old Santa Fe depot at Canon City weekends at 12:30 PM for a trip through the Gorge to Parkdale and back, reversing direction but not the train.
It seems the summer schedule, while scaling for demand, is difficult for the rail tourist to reckon without his calendar.

Beginning next weekend (May 21st), they will begin their summer schedule with trains every day at 9:30 am, 12:30, and 3:30. Their dinner train will run at 7:00 PM on Fridays and Saturdays and select Thursdays through the summer (click here for details). The mid-afternoon train at 3:30 PM will drop from the schedule August 20th except on Saturdays through the rest of the summer. Rates are $29.95 for adults and $19.50 for children ages 3 - 12 in coach. Upgrades are done a la carte. It's $10 extra for adults and children to upgrade to first class, and $25 above the coach fare for dome class. Lunch on board the train is roughly $40 above the coach fare and dinner is $79.95 total per person. Cab rides for those 13 and older are $99. It's a great experience for a railfan to ride in the cab with the engineer. They might even let you toot the horn for that price.
Railroad Aventures visit to this location in 2003.

Other posts in this series:

Monday, May 8, 2006

Silver Vista II

Back in 1953, the only domed observation car built for the narrow gauge, the Silver Vista, was lost due to a fire. This after only 6 years of service. For years, there has been talk about re-creating this car as a means of keeping the historical theme of the railroad but also allowing riders to enjoy the scenery in a 180 degree panorama. Today, this car is a reality.

Begun back in March, Durango & Silverton employees contructed a reasonable facsimilie of the Silver Vista and it made it's test runs last weekend. Durango & Silverton is already promoting it. They even have a button designed for riders who reserve their tickets aboard the new car.

The new car also sports a flying "Durango & Silverton" logo on the side. The flying "S" is awkward looking, but it still looks fine.

The Silver Vista is a good strike at keeping the railroad true to it's roots while looking to provied a new seperience for riders. Reservations are made by visiting or by calling 877-TRAIN-07.

A special tip of the hat for ND Holmes of for his coverage of this story!

Sunday, May 7, 2006

Northern Front Range

Summer is practically upon us. So, in addition to the links at right, I figure it's only helpful for folks to see a good majority of the railroad opportunities that exist in Colorado. I've grouped them by region. We'll start with the...

Northern Front Range

Boulder County Railway Historical Society - Aging equipment in static, open air display on the northeast outskirts of Boulder. Web site has extensive photography of restoration efforts. Various Union Pacific, Burlington Northern, Colorado & Southern, Great Western, and Rio Grande rolling stock along with Great Western engine #296 and PSC engine #14. Free.
Railroad Adventures visit to this site on June 11, 2006.

Colorado Railroad Museum - Largest collection of Colorado railroading history located on the west side of the Denver metropolis, just east of Golden and north of the mammoth Coors Brewery complex. Large collection of static equipment displays is augmented by a loop of track completed in the late 1990s as well as an armstrong turntable and roundhouse used for extensive restoration projects. The Richardson Library is on the grounds, offering a boon to railroad historians. Their gift shop is a dangerous place for a railfan.

Steam-ups are:
  • May 13-14 for Mother's Day
  • June 17-18 for Father's Day
  • July 14 (the Wine and Cheese Train)
  • July 15-16 for Armed Forces Day
  • August 19-20
  • October 29 (the Ghost Train)
  • December 2-3 (the Santa Claus Special)
The very popular Day Out With Thomas will be consecutive weekends on September 16-17 (Sat-Sun) and 22-24 (Fri-Sun). Special tickets that go on sale in June are required to ride the train those weekends.

June 24 and October 7, the museum will have a free day, where no admission is charged. This is because the museum receives funds as a Tier II member of Denver's SCFD tax district. All other days, admission is $8 adults, $7 seniors $5 for children ages 2-15. We typically take advantage of the family rate of $18 that includes 2 adults and their children under 16.

Denver Union Station - Purchased by Denver's Regional Transportation District and intended to be the hub for their FasTracks project, this historic site is the departure point for Amtrak's California Zephyr, ANSCO's Ski Train, and the occasional American Orient Express (now rebranded as Grandeluxe Rail Journeys), along with RTD's C-line Light Rail route. It's facilities remain mostly unchanged, with the exception of a few bus ramps and light rail pads. Future changes include underground Light Rail access. A gift shop sells railroad schedules from decades past and other railroadiana. Admission is free.

Forney Museum - Formerly occupying a factory warehouse built over 100 years ago, the Forney Transportation Museum relocated to a new facility on Brighton Blvd in Denver after expenses of maintaining the building outpaced their budget. Now in better digs, the museum hosts all sorts of conveyances, not just railcars and engines, on static display. Of particular importance about the new facility is the ability to shield Union Pacific Big Boy (4-8-8-4) engine #4005 and other equipment from the elements outside. Admission is...*deep breath* adults for $7, seniors $6, youth (ages 11-15) $4.50, children (ages 5-10) $3.50, and children under 5 are free.
Railroad Adventures visit to the Forney Museum on November 16, 2001.

Ft. Collins Municipal Railway - A restored trolley line that runs along Mountain Ave. in Ft. Collins. It opened for the summer season on Saturday, May 6th. Half-hour roundtrip fares for adults are $1, seniors are 75 cents, and children ages 3 -12 are 50 cents...refreshments are extra.

Platte Valley Trolley - The PVT runs south from Denver's REI flagship store (formerly the Forney Museum) along the Platte River past Six Flags Elitch Gardens and the Denver aquarium. Not exactly an authentic trolley, as it's diesel powered, it gives riders a chance to view the Denver skyline and several LoDo attractions. Fares are $3 per adult and $2 for children and seniors (ages 4-12 and 65 and over, respectively) for the short, 25 minute excursion. Fares for the hour-long"Route 84" excursion are $6 and $4 for children and seniors.

Ski Train - The final descendant of the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad, the Ski Train has been carrying passengers up to Denver-owned Winter Park Ski Area for over 50 years, first under the Rio Grande and then under the ownership of Ansco, investment arm of Denver billionaire Phillip Anschutz, who purchased the Rio Grande in 1984, the Southern Pacific in 1988, and will finish his term with the Union Pacific as Vice-Chairman this year in 2006. Remaining outside the Union Pacific merger, the Ski Train continues to generate revenue by hauling skiers from Denver Union Station up to Winter Park each winter. In the last several years, however, the Ski Train has made summer runs up to the high country, mostly to Winter Park for its summer attractions, although runs to Glenwood Springs have also been made.
The destination is comfortable and fairly laid back, with activities such as mountain biking, miniature golf, wall climbing, hiking and a well-designed alpine slide. There are occasional specials run to Glenwood Springs.

photo by Kent Meireis provided by

The motive power for the train used to include a Rio Grande lashup, but now leases Amtrak F40s painted in a modified Rio Grande F-unit (full cowl) design. Ansco has shown that they value the past while keeping a good eye for business.

Riders on the Ski Train will enjoy the same scenery enjoyed by the riders of the California Zephyr up to Winter Park. Coach seats are reserved for $44 for adults and $39 for seniors and children 2-13. Seating is 2-and-2 across, while Club seating is $69 per person, with wider seats, situated 2-and-1, and a catered continental breakfast on the way up and beverages and snacks on the way down. Perhaps the only thing better is realizing that you're not going to have to drive over Berthoud Pass and I-70 to get home. If you're looking to relax in the mountains for a day and live near Denver, you can't beat the experience.

Rio Grande style Ski Train logo -- click here to visit the Ski Train

Future entries for other regions of Colorado will be forthcoming.

For an exhaustive list of railroad locations in Colorado, visit the database at