Thursday, June 29, 2006

Northern Mountains

This is the fourth in a series of posts on the passenger train opportunities in Colorado for the summer 2006 season. Part one focused on the Northern Front Range and part two addressed the Southern Front Range, both served by the I-25 corridor. Part three looked at the venerable narrow gauge opportunities in the Southern Mountains. Part four will go into the

Northern Mountains
In the mountains west of Denver, there was a gold rush that began in 1859 and a silver rush soon followed. Railroads like the Colorado Central and the Denver, Northwestern & Pacific drove deep into the heart of the mountains, using narrow and standard gauges to reach the gold and silver ore that came by the ton out of the Rockies. Today, remnants large and small make up the lines that showcase Colorado's beautiful and majestic mountains of north central and northwestern Colorado.

Amtrak's California Zephyr - In the late 1940s, traveling aboard a sleek, streamlined train was exciting, a premier mode of travel when air travel was a novelty and jet liners were still on the drawing boards. In 1949, the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy, Denver & Rio Grande Western, and the Western Pacific began combined service over the three railroads between Chicago, Illinois, and Oakland California. Passengers aboard the new California Zephyr discovered the scenic Riders aboard the California Zephyr in April 1951 - Courtesy WHD Denver Public Librarywonders of places like the Colorado Rocky Mountains, the vast Utah deserts and the California Sierras. Riders departing Denver in the morning would ride in comfort on the Rio Grande, climbing the Front Range through the Tunnel District, thought the 6.2 mile-long Moffat Tunnel and down the western slope though Gore, Byers, Glenwood, and Ruby Canyons. By the evening they would reach Salt Lake City. It was stylish, beautiful, and comfortable. However, by the late 60s, the age of jet travel was in full swing and ridership dwindled. In 1970, the ICC (predecessor to the Federal Surface Transportation Board) finally allowed the Western Pacific to drop it's portion of the passenger route after WP repeadedly said it could no longer afford to continue service. The CB&Q continued to run their portion under the name California Service, although the train never approached the west coast, terminating as the Rio Grande Zephyr in Salt Lake.Image Copyright Colorado Conservative 2006 In 1971, Amtrak took over the nations remaining passenger service, dropping the majority of trains, never to be resumed. One route that was selected was the California Zephyr. Yet the Rio Grande opted not to join Amtrak because of the fees. As a result, Amtrak ran a San Francisco Zephyr over the UP, and the Rio Grande continued to run it's RGZ service 6 times a week, alternating daily East-West runs so that only one trainset needed to be used. This author rode the last trip of the RGZ in 1983 aboard a Vista Dome. That year, the Rio Grande entered Amtrak, which began an undistinguished era of service over much of the original route, with a few exceptions in California.

Today, passengers can ride aboard the Amtrak version and take in the scenery aboard a coach, sleeper, diner or "Sightseer Observation Lounge," Amtrak's successor to the dome cars. Board early in Denver and grab a seat -- first come, first served -- in the lounge car on the right side of the train to enjoy a spectacular view. A popular trip is from Denver to Glenwood Springs for a few days, soaking in the mineral springs. Fares for adults, seniors, and children vary with the season and other factors that impact intercity travel. Trains depart Union Station in Denver daily, with stops in Fraser (Winter Park), Granby (Grand Lake & Hot Sulphur Springs), Glenwood Springs, and Grand Junction. A route guide (pdf) is available.

Georgetown Loop Railroad - A short, 45 minute drive up I-70 west of Denver brings you Georgetown, a former mining town and home of the Hotel de Paris, where a cranky chef named Louis Depuy once produced world-famous cuisine for customers that fell under his good graces. It is also home to a recreation of a stretch of the narrow gauge Colorado Central Railroad, which was then under the influence of Jay Gould and the Union Pacific, who used it to access the rich silver ores coming from the mines along Clear Creek. In order to drive the track from Georgetown to Silver Plume in 1884, a system of curves, bridges and a high trestle had to be built in order to ease the proposed grade from 6% to a more negotiable 4%. In the process the railroad crossed over itself nearly 100 feet above the lower grade, forming the Georgetown Loop. Promoted in flyers across America and worldwide, tourists flocked to ride the famous loop and ride the neighboring Argentine Central to the top of Mt. McClellan. After the Great Depression, the line was abandoned and in World War II, the trestle was dismantled for scrap iron to fight the war. When I-70 was being constructed, the route was intentionally diverted above the route of this historic railroad on the insistance of the Colorado Historic Society in order to preserve the possibility of restoring the famed loop to operation. In 1973, the Colorado Historic Society, partnering with the UP, began reconstructing the loop from Devil's Gate, a short distance west of Georgetown, up to Silver Plume. In 1984, a century after the loop was originally built, construction was complete and service, complete with steam engines, resumed. In 2004, the operator's lease was not renewed and for a brief time, it looked as if the railroad would cease operations. A new operator, Railstar, stepped up and secured the engines and equipment in time for the new season and once again the whistle of a steam engine echoes down the Clear Creek valley. On a side note, the domain is owned by the previous operator of the line and, as a symptom of the bad relations between them and the Colorado Historical Society, has not sold the domain name to either the CHS or Railstar, using it instead to divert ridership from the Georgetown Loop and promote their other railroad, the Royal Gorge Route.

Visitors can board the train in either Georgetown or Silver Plume for a ride over the loop. Seating is unreserved, with covered and open gondolas for riders to take in the beauty. A slow pass over the high trestle is obviously the best part of the trip, but riders will also be pleasantly surprised to find the refreshing river crossings and ride through quiet glades of pine and aspen to be very enjoyable. Tickets are $17.50 for adults and $12.00 for children. With four or five departure times per day at one station or the other, it's hard to find a time not to ride. Riders can also purchase a ticket to the Lebanon Mine, accessible only by the train, for and additional $8.00 and $5.50 respectively. On a final note, if there is one train trip in Colorado for families with small children, this is it. The short trip length, open seating, affordability, and convenience to the Front Range make this a winner.
Railroad Adventures visit to this location in 2004 and 1992. (Note that both trips are with the previous operator.)

Leadville, Colorado & Southern - Under the Denver, South Park & Pacific Railroad, a narrow gauge line was driven over Boreas Pass south of Breckenridge, down into Dillon, and then through Frisco and over Fremont Pass and down into Leadville. By reaching Leadville in 1884, the DSP&P had made itself a target of Jay Gould and the Union Pacific, who were eager to taste the profits of the Leadville mines. Once Gould acquired the railroad, he had no need to drive the Colorado Central further west and the line of the Georgetown Loop stopped at Graymont (now Bakerville) below Loveland Pass. Both the CC and DSP&P lines would find freedom from Gould's control in the reorganization of 1899 into the Colorado & Southern. Eventually, the C&S came under the control of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy in 1908, later the Burlington Northern. In 1938, much of the C&S narrow gauge system was abandoned, leaving the narrow gauge line from Leadville to Climax isolated. Still, narrow gauge trains soldiered on, serving the mine at Climax until 1943 when the line was standardized. America needed Climax's molybdenum to harden steel for World War II, and a streamlined transfer process was necessary. Thus the line to Climax was standard gauged. Steam, however, continued to serve until 1962. Since the Union Pacific closed the former Rio Grande Tennessee Pass route in 1997, the line has been entirely cut off from the railroad world.

Today, one of the last steam engines to serve on the line sits on static display outside the Leadville, Colorado & Southern depot. Sold to a local couple in 1987 by the Burlington Northern for the whopping sum of $10, the line has been slowly and lovingly rehabilitated on a limited budget. Like the Georgetown Loop, open seating is in covered and open gondolas, but unlike the Loop, the LC&S is standard gauge, meaning wider cars and a larger and, well, dieselized feel to the trip. The line up the valley to Climax isn't especially scenic, but it is pretty, nonetheless. Riders coming from I-70 over Fremont Pass will find that they already traveled the route to get to Leadville. A GP-9 diesel backs the train up the pass and then comes back down with little fanfare. When last ridden in the late 90s, the concession car bathrooms were unfortunately an unpleasant. Once you reach a certain point, the rails seem to wither and the train halts about a half-mile short of the pass summit. Technically, the rails do continue up to the mine, but the poor condition of the track leaves it at high risk for derailment, something unpopular with tourists and railroaders alike. The diesel engine, the lack of exclusive scenery (no other way to see it), and the "on-the-cheap" condition of the equipment all make it difficult to justify the fares of $26.50 for adults and $15.00 for children. Even paying an extra $35.00 for a ride in the cab or an extra $25.00 for a ride in the caboose seems too much. For the railfan, this is a good ride, not a great one.
Railroad Adventures visit to this location in 2003.

Glenwood Railroad Museum
- The Western Colorado chapter of the NRHS has created a railroad museum in the east side of the depot in Glenwood Springs, about 150 miles west of Denver on I-70. A large scale model railroad, photos, and dining car china are all on display there. Specialized history is also featured, including a display devoted to the South Canyon Coal tram, Marble Tram, Treasury Mountain, Crystal River and the Crystal River & San Juan. No rolling stock is stored there, but they do have a D&RGW Fairmont A-6 speeder. A number of their patrons are riders of the California Zephyr, stopping there twice daily. Their hours are 12 - 4 PM, Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday, although they may close on Monday during July and part of August due to the Union Pacific rail replacement projects, which will divert the Zephyr through Wyoming. Fare is a requested $1.00 adult donation, with all children under 12 free.

Other posts in this series:

Mato Vega Fire at 85% Containment

Just heard last night that the Mato Vega fire is 85% contained, which means the direct threat to the SL&RG La Veta Pass line is negligable at this point.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Mato Vega Fire Still North Of Highway

An update from Friday: The Mato Vega wildfire on the north side of La Veta Pass has charred an estimated 13,153 acres. Crews are working to contain the fire, and they have it 45% contained. They are not on top of it yet. They are planning a spot burn, lighting it with a helicopter mounted heli-torch to keep it north of Highway 160 and out of a subdivision. The highway is open, but they are using a pilot car to guard against accidents from smoke and firefighter traffic.

Arkansas Students Write About the Durango & Silverton

I just found an interesting article from some college students from Arkansas taking a journey across the American Southwest. They took a ride on the Durango & Silverton. Their article illustrates why it is so important for future generations to get to experience these tourist lines. Clearly, these kids are learning in a way they will never forget.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Wildfires Threaten La Veta Pass Line

In a little less than a month into its inaugural season, the operator of Colorado's two newest passenger touist trains, the San Luis & Rio Grande, has run into the bane of tourist seasons: wildfires. The Mato Vega Wildfire is just north of US 160 on La Veta Pass, on the other side of the highway. The trouble is that the fire has closed the highway for 3 days. It just reopened 6 hours ago and will only be open for travel at night. During the day, travelers will be escorted due to the heavy fire fighter traffic. This only bodes ill for the SL&RG, which is dependent on US 160 for passengers from the Front Range and the east. There are no convenient parallel routes, with drivers needing to connect with US 285 from 73 miles to the north at Poncha Springs or from 91 miles to the south at Taos, NM. There is no telling when the highway will be back to normal operations although yesterday's weather helped.

Other wildfires are burning in the state, sparked mostly by lightning from clouds dropping very little of the wet stuff. The dry conditions has prompted Governor Owens to ban all fires on state-owned lands except those in fire rings. If these conditions continue, there is the possibility of a repeat of the 2002 wildfire hysteria that caused a total shut down of the C&TS and limited operations on the D&S. Given the limited scope of the Governor's initial ban and the reasonably healthy snows from last winter, however, such draconian measures seem unlikely. The forests, while dry, are not nearly as parched as they were in 2002. Tourists who plan on coming should keep their plans as is for the forseeable future.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

More Heritage Unit Shots

Here are some more shots of the DRGW Heritage Unit:

Nose with the "Main Line Thru The Rockies" herald

Unveiling...with a lot of help!

The Riddler-like question mark on the side was the working of Mike Iden of UP.

Control stand inside the cab

UP Is Tipping Its Hand

At the unveiling of DRGW-inspired heritage unit 1989, it was mentioned from the podium that the unit for Chicago & Northwestern (CNW) will be unveiled a month from now, and the Southern Pacific (SP) will be unveiled in August. Like the Grande locomotive, they will probably be done with some pomp and ceremony in their home districts.

The UP tipped its hand a little at the theme of its two remaining heritage schemes by posting banners at the unveiling. Here are the banners for each road:

Chicago & North Western

Southern Pacific

As you can see, the logo at left gives a preview of the theme of the design for the existing four locomotives (click the heading for a view of the locomotive). It stands to reason, therefore, that the other two will likely follow suit.

Guessing's Over - The D&RGW Heritage Unit Is Unveiled!

The guessing is over and we've got the pictures. Kevin Morgan and I -- along with at least 40 other photographers -- were there for the unveiling of the UP's new heritage scheme for the Denver & Rio Grande Western. Here's the unit at the final unveiling taken with my own paltry 3 Mpx camera.

As you can see, the paint scheme is largely derived from the 40s and 50s era F-units with gray on top, just like the F-units and four stripes down the length, also from the cowl scheme. The only nod to the freight, black-with-gold design is the placement and size of the Rio Grande speed lettering down the side, which was what was used on the GP-30s and -35s purchased in the 50s. This was before the billboard style with the little "Rio," big "Grande" lettering.

The large mountains occupying the nose are taken from the Main Line Thru the Rockies logo. It's entirely appropriate to do this for a one-of-a-kind paint job as it emphasizes the territory traveled by the Rio Grande. However, it's pretty easy to suppose that the Rio Grande itself would have never gone to such lavish extremes for standard road units.

The impression from most of the people I talked to at the unveiling is that they were pleased with the design. No one commented that there was too much grey or that they should have done a coal black unit. One possibility for their not going with an orange and black unit would be their reluctance to look too much like their competitor that has begun to take on an orange and black swoosh logo, which isn't different enough from the speed lettering of the Grande.

Here's a close-up of the Rio Grande lettering from on board the new SD-70ACe.

Kevin has posted better, much better shots at his site. Go take a look.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Guess What's Under The Tarp?

A Denver railfan just snapped this tonight of a new arrival. I wonder what's under that tarp...

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Southern Mountains

This is the third in a series of posts about the recreational opportunities in Colorado for railroad enthusiasts. Part one was the Northern Front Range. Part two focused on the Southern Front Range. Part three will focus on the...

Southern Mountains
The southern mountains -- for the purpose of this post -- extends westward from the front range bounded by South Park on the northeast, the Sangre de Cristo Mountains on the southeast and follows the 39th Parallel to Uncompahgre National Forest in the west and down to the Four Corners Monument.

Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad - Originally a portion of the Narrow Gauge Circle, the line preserves one of the most picturesque sections of the line from Alamosa to Durango, abandoned by the Rio Grande in the late 1960s. A labor of love by countless volunteers, the Cumbres line runs from Antonito, 30 miles south of Alamosa, climbing up through Toltec Gorge, over Cumbres Pass (10,015 ft ASL), and down the 4% grade to Chama, New Mexico, a total of 64 miles and the longest narrow gauge railroad in Colorado. The route is as varied as it is scenic. Desert sagebrush, alpine meadows, mountain glades, and rugged gorges are all encountered on this day-long ride. The line is owned jointly by the States of Colorado and New Mexico and operated by a third-party private contractor in close coordination with the volunteers. Although funding has been an issue in the past, a fresh infusion of cash from Colorado may give the C&TS the boost it has needed since the 2002 wildfires.

Riders can board at either Chama, NM, or Antonito 7 days a week for a full run over the C&TS from now until October 15, 2006, although, depending on the day, you may end up taking 90 minute ride by motorcoach from one station to the other to board the train. It is also possible to take a trip to the halfway point at Osier and return to your originating station by train. A coach ticket to ride the train will cost $59 per adult and $30 per child ages 2 - 11, with lunch at Osier included. Coach is reserved seating, but riders are encouraged to visit the open gondola car. Travel by motorcoach to complete your trip and the fare rises to a total of $72 per adult and $36 per child. Parlor Car tickets are $115 per person, and their bearers ride in a plush coach with open seating and attendant service.

The Cumbres and Toltec Scenic is a railfan's delight. Passenger trains are double- and even triple-headed from Chama to Cumbres, to the extreme delight of steam fans. The standard day-long trip is not for every small child, so the C&TS folks have come up with a shorter, 3-hour trip called the Cinder Express on Thursdays. Tickets are $44 for adults and $22 per child ages 2 - 11. Whether indulging the little rainfan or the little railfan in all of us, the Cumbres is a special railroad that brings everyone a vital piece of Colorado railroading history.
Railroad Adventures visit to this location in 2005, 1992, and 1979.

San Luis & Rio Grande Railroad
- Shortline railroad running former Denver & Rio G
rande Western trackage west of Walsenberg, Colorado, climbing over La Veta Pass into the San Luis Valley and Alamosa. Only a few weeks into its inaugural season running scenic passenger service, the SL&RG has initiated two separate trips.

A wide array of ticket options are available, but the primary s
ervice, the San Luis Express, runs from Alamosa, over La Veta Pass to the town of La Veta for a lunch stop and then back to Alamosa. This is a rare-mileage treat for the Colorado railfan, because a significant portion of the La Veta Pass line is isolated from the outside world. Tickets from Alamosa run $40 per adult, $25 per child, and $30 for seniors.

A secondary service, the Toltec Gorge Limited, is designed to serve passengers from Alamosa to Antonito in time to ride the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic and allows them to return to Alamosa that evening. Combined tickets for both the Toltec Gorge Limited and the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic may be purchased through the San Luis & Rio Grande. This service is ideal for those taking advantage of the inexpensive lodging in Alamosa. Click here for the opening weekend announcement.

Gunnison Pioneer Museum - Otto Perry, a legendary Colorado railroad photographer, filmed the last days of the Marshall Pass. Featuring prominently in these films and photos is the Denver and Rio Grande Western
class C-16 engine #268. Cosmetically restored to its "bumblebee" paint scheme and sheltered in a new pavilion, the 268, some rolling stock including a caboose, along with a water tower from Marshall Pass and depot relocated from Sargents to the east, are all part of a larger outdoor museum exhibit. Admission to the museum is $7 for adults and $1 for children ages 2 - 11.
Railroad Adventures visit to this location in 1991.

Cimarron Canyon Rail Exhibit -
Directly west of Gunnison on US 50 near the former cattle railhead town of Cimarron, the sister of engine 268, number 278 is parked on an isolated trestle spanning part of Cimarron Canyon. Nestled deep in an arm of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, the static display is at once beautiful and lonesome, the epitome of Colorado railroading. Cut off from access at either end, the trestle functions as a guard against vandals with a moat of air between it and the road. Free.
Railroad Adventures visits to this location in 2005 and 1991.

Ridgway Railroad Museum - Continue west on US 50, head south at Montrose and you'll come to Ridgway, former northern terminal of the fabled Rio Grande Southern. With exterior static displays and a small indoor exhibit, the museum is best known as the home of the replica of Motor #1, the original Galloping Goose. It was completed in 2000, 69 years after the original Motor was built. Open on summer weekends with guided tours. Admission is free but donations are clearly welcome.

Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad & Museum - Perhaps the most famous of all Colorado railroad trips, the Durango & Silverton links the famous southwestern Colorado town of Durango with the mining town of Silverton. In the 1950s and 60s, the Rio Grande's days of narrow gauge railroading were winding down. Highways and airways sapped nearly all traffic from the line, yet one particular stretch of narrow gauge was experiencing a growth of passenger traffic. A small train run once a week called the Silverton Mixed began to experience a boom of railfans interested in riding and seeing the beauty of the very scenic line. It was the future of the railroad. Over the next two decades, the Rio Grande developed the train, expanding service to daily trains and then running them in sections. By the time the Rio Grande sold the line in 1980, the Durango train was well established, not just in the world of railfans, but in the general tourism landscape.

Today, even the most jaded tourist will still look up from their laptop and latte to see the black engine trailing a string of Grande-gold cars behind it. It is a pretty sight, one that has repeated itself up to four times a day on the rails that follow the Animas River between Durango and Silverton.
While the line makes its money hauling tourists, it also acknowledges the railfans and "rivet counters" with an annual "Railfest" that includes specials such the RGS Goose No. 5 and the wood-burning Eureka 4-4-0 from the Eureka & Palisade. This year, the Railfest will be held August 23-27. There is also a fall photo special on September 23-24.

A run to Silverton and back is an all-day affair. While the coaches are historically accurrate -- some of the rolling stock dates back to before 1900 -- with two-and-two seating, they are not especially accommodating. Lucius Beebe wrote that using the restrooms onboard was a feat that would have amused Houdini. He wasn't far off. With luggage racks that are hardly more than ornamental, the coaches have only one place to store any gear, beneath your seat. Additionally, the windows do not loan themselves to pictures and riders are frequently seen "dogging" out the windows to get a shot of the Animas Canyon scenery.
Those desperate to get a shot from one of the cars' platforms will be disappointed to find an attendant shooing them off. The camera hounds are much better off reserving a seat aboard one of the gondolas or aboard the new Silver Vista. Lunch can be packed or purchased in one of the restaurants in Silverton. Some of the restaurants have character, others have little more than burgers and rushing waitstaff. Either way, there is little chance that you'll miss your ride back to Silverton; the engine will whistle loud enough to make the hillsides echo for seconds afterward. Visitors to Silverton might be surprised to find that the town was once served by no less than four railroads at one time, each built to haul ore and supplies. Today, the mines are all closed down and the Durango & Silverton is the town's main reason to exist.

Tickets to ride a typical summer train are $62 for adults and $31 for children ages 5-11. Returning by motorcoach from Silverton to Durango are $7 more, which is a real consideration for parents of small children who by 2 PM are pretty tired of riding. It's possible -- but not probable -- to get in a motorcoach on standby. Premium tickets for First Class and Presidential Class are $109 and $129 respectively.

The Durango & Silverton is quintessentially Colorado: historic, scenic, colorful, and a little touristy. It's a memorable experience to ride on the High Line above the deepest parts of the Animas Canyon and quite a beautiful ride, with scenery not seen any other way.
Railroad Adventures visits to this location in 2005 and 1992.

Galloping Goose Historical Society of Dolores - In the 1930s, the Rio Grande Southern had to get inventive to survive the Great Depression. Among other cost saving measures, rail busses were constructed out of old automobiles and freight cars to give the RGS its fleet of Galloping Geese. In 1952, after the railroad finally dissolved, the RGS donated Galloping Goose No. 5 to the town of Dolores. In 1998, volunteers with the Galloping Goose Historical Society of Dolores restored the Goose. Because none of the RGS route between Ridgway and Durango survives, the society has taken to running the Goose on non-native, yet scenic rails of the Durango & Silverton and the Cumbres & Toltec. While the Goose is on display at the depot between these runs, and while there is an interior display at the depot with artifacts from the RGS, no website is available to give hours or information. E-mails should be directed to There was a plan in 2001 to run track 9 miles out of Dolores for the Goose to have its own track, but nothing more has come of it.
One loyal fan at has committed several pages to the wanderings of this Goose.

Other posts in this series:

Operation Lifesaver Photos

Thought the Ski Train isn't scheduled to begin service to Winter Park until July 15, Operation Lifesaver made use of Ansco's equipment to take a run up the Moffat Tunnel Route to Steamboat Springs on June 8th. Kevin Morgan has two photos of the run at Blue Mountain and Coal Creek Canyon's approach to Tunnel 1.

Peeking Under The Wrapper

Were you one of those kids that peeked under the wrappings at Christmastime? Well, someone posted a photo on of the DRGW Heritage Unit to be unveiled next week in Denver (see previous post). Yeah, I know it's still wrapped, but I definitely see some paint peeking through on the pilot and crew ladders. It's going to be hard waiting for Saturday.

The unit is making its way to Denver. It will be in Coubluffs (Council Bluffs?), IA at 6:15 AM Sunday.

Saturday, June 10, 2006


Union Pacific Shane McComber Vail Daily

Is this an eyesore?

The town of Avon believes it may be. In an era where coal is assuming new levels of dominance as an energy source, Union Pacific is planning on storing 500 coal cars in the yard at Minturn, the former helper terminal for the "rail banked" -- read: not quite abandoned, but almost -- Tennessee Pass route between Pueblo and Dotsero on the Colorado River. While this could be part of a power play to the Colorado Public Utilities Commission to rub out two grade crossings in a planned development in Avon, UP officials claim that such talk is "a very bad rumor."

The town of Avon, playground to the rich and famous, has already made it illegal for a railcar to stop in a grade crossing. Next week, on June 13th, the town of Avon plans to make it illegal to park railcars anywhere in their city limits for more that two days. It's called a nuisance law, and it's designed to keep the town looking nice. It's also a symbol of the conflict of two different industries that have come to be largely at odds with each other.

Only 120 years ago, your town could die if you didn't get a railroad. Today, it could die if the railroad stays. Minturn, just down the road from Avon, desperately wants to join her sisters as "resort town." Who's holding her back? Why the big, bad railroad, of course. If the UP stores it's railcars there, then in the words of one Edwards resident, Kyle Bolio, "Minturn's going to look like a dump."

Is it really that bad? Towns like Colorado Springs, Winter Park, and Glenwood Springs have rails that sing with traffic, in most cases running right through the center of town, and it doesn't seem to be holding them back on property values or tourists. Could there be something else afoot in the Colorado Rockies? Are new residents suffering from ferroequinophobia? Are their concerns about occasional train noise and the danger to children near the right of way any more valid that towns and cities that see 20 trains per day?

The good news is that UP never fully abandoned the Tennessee Pass right-of-way. Had they done so, 7-story condos would have gone up the next week in that little valley. Railroads continue to be the lifeblood of our nation. The moment a line is abandoned, it is lost forever. Then when the need arises for a rail line, as it inevitably will with continued growth of the American economy, there won't be one there to reactivate and use to ship the needed commodities. No, the UP needs to hang on to Tennessee Pass, a key crossing of the Continental Divide, if only to stick in there as a standby line for the potential future of Colorado and the West.

hat tip to John Barnhill of

Monday, June 5, 2006

Rio Grande Heritage Unit 1989 Confirmed

As a follow-up to my previous post, I did some checking with UP and they will be unveiling the new Denver & Rio Grande Western heritage unit in Denver on June 17. The bad news: This event is not open to the public, only employees and media. The good news is that the UP folks will be sending it around the region's rails so there will be plenty of time to film and/or photograph it in action. Get those cameras ready!

Ouray Caboose Moved for Restoration

Long a feature of Ouray Hot Springs Park, Denver & Rio Grande Western narrow gauge caboose number 0575 was relocated to the Ridgway Railroad Museum for restoration. On May 30, 2006, the caboose was loaded onto a semi flatbed trailer and trucked over US 550 to the museum grounds at Ridgway. The caboose will remain the property of Ouray County Historical Society, but all mainenance will be done by the museum. Visit the Ridgway Railroad Museum site for details along with pictures of the move.

Thursday, June 1, 2006

D&RGW Heritage Unit #1989

It's unconfirmed, but apparently Union Pacific will be unveiling their Denver & Rio Grande Western heritage unit UP 1989 in Denver on June 17th. According to John Barnhill of,
The June 17th unveiling of the Denver Rio-Grande Western unit will be in Denver from 11:30 AM to 3:30PM at 1400 W. 52nd. Ave., behind the superintendents office building. Hot dogs, hamburgers, fixins', soda, cotton candy and snow cones will be served. The mini train will be on site offering rides, and also a variety of games to be played while adults can participate in health screenings, blood pressure and cholesterol checks. A engine bell raffle with proceeds which go to the Friend-to-Friend Network.
I will be watching for confirmation...although nothing yet has shown up on the UP press releases.

Update 6/5/06 - Confirmed, but not open to the public.