Thursday, December 31, 2020

Rio Grande Pacific To Lease Tennessee Pass Route

One last post to close out 2020. And boy, is it big news!

A group known as Rio Grande Pacific is going to lease the Tennessee Pass Route from Union Pacific. Both Trains and Railfan & Railroad announced the news today. 

Railfan & Railroad stated,

According to a press release, Rio Grande Pacific subsidiary, Colorado Midland & Pacific Railway (CMP), will lease a majority of the line and file for common-carrier authority with the U.S. Surface Transportation Board to operate it. Officials said that CMP will “assess the interest of the communities served by the Tennessee Pass line” for both freight and passenger service. 

Trains followed with more details from the STB filing:
The Colorado Midland & Pacific filing to the STB says the railroad will lease 163.1 miles of the line between milepost 171.9 at Parkdale, Colo., and Milepost 335.0 near Sage, Colo., and that it projects the railroad’s annual revenue will not exceed $5 million. The portion of the line east of Parkdale is currently operated by short line Rock & Rail, and also hosts the Royal Gorge Route Railroad tourist operation.
Rio Grande Pacific is based out of Benbrook, a suburb of Ft. Worth, Texas

With no traffic over the railroad for over 20 years now, my guess is that at least three months are going to be spent rehabilitating the line. The line has been stripped of most of its copper and any other valuable metals by vandals during the gap in operations. It's more likely, with the new PTC standards, that the entire line will be rewired. 

Questions about passenger service and other meaningful commodities still need to be assessed by the new company, but their associated transit company would certainly be involved. Commuter service to Dowd Junction for Vail would certainly bring a great deal of help for those who work in the ski industry and the associated services like food and hospitality. It may eventually even raise property values all along the line to accommodate those workers. The Vail news site Real Vail has more on these contingencies.

Stay tuned!⚒


  1. Interesting. I'm confused about "the railroad’s annual revenue will not exceed $5 million"? This is not much and doesn't justify repairing & upgrading the track. Perhaps they are initially planning on only Gypsum-Minturn, where the track is in pretty good shape.
    For a commuter line to work, it needs to be fast, reliable, comfortable, and frequent. It will be interesting how they accomplish this.
    But, what they may be calling a "commuter line" may end up being an occasional tourist run.
    I can't find any reference to Sage, CO? Is it an old rail stop near Gypsum?

  2. In summary: As a summary: Much in this vague announcement doesn't make sense.  There are several high hurdles to reestablishing Pueblo-Glenwood freight traffic, including expensive track refurbishment, likely lack of freight demand, and the rights of the Royal Gorge RR.   
    The proposed passenger service probably won't have the frequency, reliability, comfort, or speed to be an effective commuter service.  I don't think a for-profit entity can provide the necessary investment for commuter service nor get effective buy-in from a government entity for the investment needed. 
        The biggest beneficiary from effective commuter service is the community (better housing options, reduced traffic, better managed tourism) and real estate owners.  It makes sense for the community to invest and to tax the real estate whose value will go up significantly.
        So, as someone mentioned, perhaps this is just a ploy by UP to tie up Tennessee Pass during the upcoming Moffat Tunnel 99-year lease renegotiation.  


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