Wednesday, February 27, 2008

2008 State Fair Express Canceled

Union Pacific has canceled the Colorado State Fair Express for 2008. This was supposed to be the second year of the special run from Denver to Pueblo. However, organizers have found too many conflicts arising between equipment used for the two political conventions in Denver and St. Paul and the special. Something had to give and the State Fair special took lower priority.

Last year's event drew hundreds of railfans and even casual observers to the tracks to watch a steam engine show it's heels as it swept over the rare mileage. Our chase ended at the Pueblo depot, surrounded by hundreds of other railfans and interested visitors. It was a beautiful sight. Main line steam is truly exciting. One can only hope 2009 sees it's return.

Follow up, 1:20 PM: Pueblo isn't exactly happy.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Commerce City Quiets Crossings With BNSF

Commerce City is the first city in Colorado to implement the Quiet Zone. At designated grade crossings, BNSF engineers are to refrain from using their horns in the area. This means that the "two longs, a short and a long" will be no more as they approach the crossing. Instead, the crossings are guarded by 2 quadrant gates and reinforced medians that block the car from pulling around the lowered arm. These obstacles meet the Federal Railroad Administration's requirements for a Quiet Zone crossing.

The Denver Post has more of the story. Here are the intersections referenced.

View Larger Map

View Larger Map

Are these new quiet zones safer? Will the code for strong safety measures be uniformly enforced? Time will tell, but this is one rule from the FRA that I'm keeping my eye on. It may sound good, but so did low-flow toilets.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

BNSF Train Runs Over Man Sitting On Tracks

A BNSF train crew got a nasty scare early this morning when their train ran over a man sitting on the tracks in Longmont. reports,
LONGMONT – A 34-year-old man was expected to survive after being run over by a train early Saturday morning.

Longmont Police say Todd Hirsh was sitting in the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad tracks in the 400 block of Atwood Street at about 3:11 a.m. when the incident occurred.

According to police, a southbound train pulling 76 freight cars had to make an emergency stop, attempting to avoid running over Hirsh.

Authorities say the train didn't stop until it had gone 75 feet south of where Hirsh was sitting.

Longmont Firefighters and Paramedics were able to remove Hirsh out from under the second engine of the three engine train. He was then transported to Longmont United Hospital where his injuries were said to be non-life-threatening.

Police charged Hirsh with trespassing. They say, according to preliminary reports, Hirsh smelled like alcohol.
Alcohol or some other form of substance abuse is the only reason I can think of that would make someone consider sitting down between the rails. Hirsh is lucky, very lucky to have survived such stupidity. I hope he understands he survived for a reason, if only to warn others about the dangers of railroads.

The route itself is the original Colorado Central line between Longmont and the Union Pacific in Wyoming built in 1877. The town was built around the tracks and Atwood Street runs at grade on both sides with car traffic medians at intersections to divert traffic around the rails. Only 0.2 miles south of the accident, the tracks wye off for Lyons and Boulder to the west and Idaho Creek to the east, both lines eventually reaching Denver. The Colorado Central line from Ft. Collins to Boulder became C&S in 1899 and the Denver Utah & Pacific route between Idaho Creek and Lyons came under Chicago, Burlington & Quincy control. Both railroads were consolidated into the Burlington Northern.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Reminder - Train Show

Those in the Denver area, don't forget about the train show this weekend.

A Bad Case of Locomotivation

If you head down to Greeley at the right time of the month from now until June, you might just be able to see this amazing, ultra-realistic model railroad layout. Watch the video for more details. The museum opens Memorial Day 2009.

HT: Stourbridge Lion

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Southeast Stations Suffer Shutdown

RTD keeps making news. The Southeastern Corridor suffered a snafu that shut down the two most southern stations on the line, likely for the rest of today. has more.

From the RTD web site:

RTD will continue to run shuttle buses between the Lincoln, County Line and Dry Creek stations to connect with the operating portion of Southeast Line. The Southeast Line is in normal operation from the Dry Creek station heading north..

Denver – This morning at about 2:30 a.m., the Regional Transportation District (RTD) experienced a break in an overhead power line that provides the electrical power directly to the light rail trains. This was likely caused when an insulator on the power line broke, which resulted in the power line snapping. The emergency shut-off system instantly cuts the power in milliseconds

RTD crews began repairs to the power line early this morning, and those repairs are expected to continue throughout the day and into the evening. This will affect only the two southernmost stations on the Southeast line during this evening’s rush hour. The rest of the light rail system remains in normal operation.

Overhead power line break cut power to two southernmost stations on Southeast Line, shuttle buses running between Lincoln, County Line and Dry Creek stations to connect with the operating portion of Southeast Line; rest of light rail system running normally

It is unknown at this time when the repairs will be completed, and this may affect those two southernmost stations on the Southeast Line for the Friday morning commute. RTD will provide an update later this afternoon.

For route and schedule information, please call RTD’s Telephone Information Center at 303.299.6000. Call 303.299.6089 for the speech and hearing impaired. Visit RTD’s web site at

FasTracks Follow Up

I want to amend something I left out in my first post. It can hardly be said that the Union Pacific has ever been favorable toward Colorado or Denver. In 1870, Coloradoans had to fund the Denver Pacific, their own connection with the Union Pacific, when UP placed their route through Cheyenne in 1868. For over a century afterward, UP connected with Denver through their acquisition of the Kansas Pacific and sent all standard gauge traffic north to Cheyenne or Julesburg. It had little apparent interest in Denver except as a backwater, and this attitude seems to remain so to this day.

The Denver Post just followed my train of thought on FasTracks Slowing Down with their own special on RTDs right-of-way woes with the Union Pacific. The closing line of the Denver Post article was most ominous for RTD:
...RTD may have to consider acquiring much more private property for the FasTracks lines at a time some in the Colorado General Assembly are proposing to curb RTD's power of eminent domain.
I had hoped that Coloradoans, especially Denverites, had the sense to keep the public transit ball rolling to improve the quality of life in the Mile High City with rail-based rapid transit. Those hopes are fading. Let's hope that legislators keep the big picture and give RTD what it needs to complete FasTracks. Denver doesn't need another I-470 debacle.

More importantly, I hope that Union Pacific can see reason in allowing Denver to use the right of way for a more reasonable figure than $700 million. Doing so would increase goodwill and possibly give them the public support to build a new route further to the east to increase efficiency over the Palmer Divide, ease rail congestion and improve grade crossings. With all the coal headed south from the Powder River Basin and the Craig coal fields, you'd think they'd want some improvements.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Old Railcar Burns At Burnham Yard

According to 9News, an old railcar caught fire near 10th & Osage in Denver in the railyard next to the Burnham shops yesterday around 9:30 a.m. At this point, personal effects found in the railcar suggest it was being used by vagrants and probably caught fire when someone burned material to heat the inside of the car.

There is no word on the history of the car or the ownership of the car, but given the boarded up condition, it was likely a work car or a car awaiting restoration. It doesn't appear to match any livery used in Colorado, past or present. I will follow up with more details as they become available.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Model Railroading - A Cure For The Mid-Winter Railfan Blues

Model railroading is for those born too late or too far away for the real thing. If you're one of them, you wish you could feel the thunder and awe of a Rio Grande 3600 class locomotive rumbling past on its way up Tennessee Pass. The beauty of a Mikado hauling a photo freight should never be a semi-annual treat. The words Denver, South Park & Pacific still mean something to you and a C&S engine with a butterfly plow working past a small station warms your heart in a way that most people wouldn't understand.

On cold winter nights, while the typical railfan falls asleep watching a DVD, the scale railroader is applying scenery, laying track or simply enjoying the fruits of his labor by watching his own train make its way through the layout of his own design. It's not the cheapest hobby, by any measure, but it is rewarding to build, layout, scenick, maintain and run your own scale railroad, especially on dark, cold winter nights.

If you want to find out more about model railroading, you could buy books about model railroading or read magazines, but the best way to learn about model railroading is to meet other model railroaders and spend time with them. The easiest way to do that is to find out when your local scale railroading club has its monthly meeting that's open to the public. Ask the questions that come to mind and watch what's involved in making a layout work. If you'd like to try it out, ask how you can get involved more in what they are doing. If the club is worth investing in, they will make it easy for you to get involved.

To find a model railroad club near you, visit the National Model Railroader's Association -- Rocky Mountain Region and click on the area you live near or in. That will put you in touch with that area's supervisor and they can find a club closest to you.

Take a look at the following video from the Denver Society of Model Railroaders, an O-scale (large) club that has built a gigantic layout in the basement of Denver's Union Station.

Friday, February 15, 2008

A Trip On the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad

Here is some weekend reading from about a trip on the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad from Chama, New Mexico to Antonito, Colorado.

Incidentally, Chama was recently blasted with heavy snow. From the Friends of the C&TS site.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

FasTracks Slowing Down

Just when they sell off the lots around Union Station to meet a $200 Million shortfall in the improvements necessary to make the station a hub for rail and bus operations, RTD is finding itself looking at more potential red ink. Failed negotiations between Union Pacific and Denver's Regional Transportation District (RTD) for sales of key tracts of land near downtown Denver's Union Station have led RTD to consider other properties and consequently change the alignment of some routes. This is likely going to lead to further analysis like environmental impact assessments and other unanticipated costs in both time and money.

So why did UP price itself out of the market on real estate? Two factors have been offered as an explanation. First, freight traffic by rail is at an all-time high. Railroads are laying down considerable amounts of cash to expand capacity. Selling off any usable assets--even if they're not likely to be used--doesn't sit well with the bean counters. This is compounded by the second factor. Railroads have long been out of the business of acquiring land, and the government doesn't exactly hand out land grants anymore. Buying private land piecemeal can't be all that appealing to a railroad executive at Union Pacific, but that's exactly what the folks at RTD are going to have to do. The speed of which is going to be anything but FasT.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Model Train Show At NW Complex in Denver

The Great Train Expo will be at the National Western Complex on I-70 just east of I-25 in Denver on February 23 & 24, 2008. The Great Train Expo is a scale-model, modular layout show with a good number of exhibitors on hand each time they come through. The Colorado Rail Link layout has been a favorite of mine for a number of years.

For out-of-town visitors, the GTE site claims that if you mention "Great Train Expo" to the folks at Savannah Suites in Arvada, you can get a room for $69 per night, but a call today to their front desk at 720-889-2111 for a room with two double beds under that promotion yielded a price of $59.99 per night. There are likely other deals to be had elsewhere too.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Rio Grande SD-40 T-2 Slipping From UP Roster?

The only un-patched Rio Grande unit, EMD SD-40T-2 #5371, has reportedly suffered a major failure and after inspection, is back at Helper, Utah as of Friday 2/1/08. Nathan Holmes of reports that the Positive Traction Control system aboard the unit has failed and that it will likely be retired and donated to the Utah State Railroad Museum.

Also of note, the 5371 is one of three numbered units modeled by Athearn in their HO-scale, ready-to-run series. Modelers wishing to acquire un-numbered model locomotives can contact the Rio Grande Modeling & Historical Society.

RTD Orders 55 Light Rail Cars From Siemens

Even as Denver's RTD takes delivery of new light rail cars, presumably for immediate use on the Southeast Corridor line, they have ordered another 55 cars for use on FasTracks lines currently under development. Trains Magazine reports a $184 million order for 55 SD160 vehicles to be built in Sacramento by Siemens. This exceeds all other single orders by RTD.