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 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 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,

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.