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."

HT: StourbridgeLion, Colorado50