I'll let that sink in for a moment. The last remaining standard gauge operation that was truly a Rio Grande original is now gone. Started by the Denver and Rio Grande Western in 1940 as a means of getting the residents of Denver to their city-owned Winter Park ski area, the train operated over 69 seasons. It originated at Denver's Union Station and dropped skiers off for a day of skiing after emerging from the Moffat Tunnel, just 12 years old in 1940. The train would be wyed at Tabernash and wait in the siding at Frasier until the day came to a close, when it would return to the same curve and pick up happy and tired skiers for a relaxing ride home.
In 1984, Denver businessman Phil Anschutz purchased the Rio Grande and then in 1988, purchased the Southern Pacific Railroad (SP), merging the two under the larger railroad's name. As part of the deal, a subsidiary of Anschutz Company would buy the Ski Train and operate it as a separate venture. They continued losing some money in the venture, but it was something they "wanted to do," according to company spokesman Jim Monaghan.
As for the reasons leading to the sale of the historic train, it was a combination of things. Monaghan cited four problems faced by the Ski Train, in no specific order.
- overall cost increases, particularly for liability coverage
- operating issues with freight trains over the route owned by SPs successor, the Union Pacific railroad
- uncertainty surrounding the redevelopment of Union Station and the Ski Train's place in that development (I blogged about this here)
- a weakened overall economy
Issue 3 appeared on this blog back in January. As I said in the post,
RTD feels a "social obligation" to it, but that's different than a contractual obligation. Where do the skis, poles, boots and people go if the platforms are spoken for by the local commuter train to Brighton? Putting more cars on I-70/US 40 to Winter Park is not an option.
Now it appears that the non-option is the reality. Since the RTD announced plans for redeveloping Denver's Union Station, they never publicly specified where the Ski Train would fit in the plans. Translation: The Ski Train is not welcome. The cars on the pavement in Denver are now being moved to the mountains by the neglect of an agency designed to improve transportation in Denver. Parasite or patron, Denver has historically shown that it is for Denver's cause above that of Colorado in general, and this fits right in.
This is indeed sad news. At the age of 69, a wonderful train is being sold off, with no replacement in sight.
HT: Kevin Morgan