Saturday, May 31, 2008

Ridgway Railroad Museum Receives Records of RGS

Earlier this month, the Ridgway Railroad Museum in Ridgway, Colorado inherited a boon this month with 50 boxes of Rio Grande Southern corporate records. These records cover everything from the founding in 1890 by Otto Mears to the wholesale abandonment of the line in the mid-1950s. According to Ouray News, Jim Pettengill of the museum was quoted,

"This generous donation probably makes us the second-largest repository of RGS archival documents. This is an incredible treasure trove of information that will take us years to thoroughly examine."

This is a tremendous opportunity for volunteers to add to the extensive knowledge of the RGS and they now have it in a location convenient to the actual physical remains of the railroad. The Colorado Railroad Museum's generous contribution means very much to the fans and historians of the RGS. As new displays and archives are opened to the public, southwestern Colorado will continue to grow richer in history and culture.

If it weren't for the dedicated work like the volunteers of Ridgway, the memory of the RGS and the people who ran her to serve the area in early times would gradually fade until she was only an apparition reported in fables by tour guides.

This summer, you can catch a little of that living history in Ridgway on June 7th or on the C&TS or the D&SNGRR. Since practically none of the original railroad grade has running rails, the volunteers of Goose 5 have taken to running on these "sister lines." Seeing her run, it's not too hard to imagine her 60 years ago running on spindly trestles between Ophir, Vance Jct., or Dolores. Take a gander--I couldn't resist that one--at her first appearance on the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic and another appearance on the Durango & Silverton's high line.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Park Railroads

As a kid, I remember a train that would circle the old Elitch Gardens at 38th & Tennyson in Denver. The year before they closed the ride permanently, I rode it with my parents because I was only 5. For years afterward, I had hoped they would re-open it, but they never did.

The magic of the Elitch railroad lives on in places like Tiny Town, Lakeside and a little park in Loveland, Colorado where the Buckhorn Northern Railroad continues to delight riders to the tune of 75 cents per round trip.

If anyone else would like to post their memories of "less than 2' gauge" or links to their favorite park railroad, they're welcome to contribute!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Durango Cancels Fourth Train to Silverton

Citing soft demand, the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad has cut their fourth train from the summer schedule. This train was to leave Durango at 7:30 a.m. daily starting June 17th and ending August 8th. Andrea Seid, spokeswoman for the railroad, told the Durango Herald, "There were not a huge amount of reservations for that particular train."

The speculation is the high gas prices are the main reason southwestern Colorado is seeing soft summer demand. How badly other summer railroads will feel the gas pinch remains to be seen as most open this weekend. Yet, one thing is for certain: if the Durango & Silverton feels it already, we won't have to wait long to find out.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Tornado Tips Tankers - Windsor Takes It On the Chin

The tornado in Windsor was estimated as an F3, a major tornado. It cut a swath through the southeast section of town. While it's not clear whose railcars these are, it's obvious that the twister packed quite a punch. Our prayers are with the families involved in this storm.

Update: Great Western (OmniTrax) owns the rails, but it might not be their cars.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

FRA Takes An Interest In Georgetown Loop Operations

While lawmakers continue debate and gas prices reach new record highs four times in as many weeks, the Georgetown Loop Railroad finds itself in a unique situation. The Federal Railroad Administration is taking the uncommon step of overseeing the tourist railroad.

Normally, the FRA doesn't usually involve itself in the tourist railroad business beyond the usual Federal boiler regulations because most tourist railroads are "insular." However, Warren Flatau with the FRA says that they are not insular as tourist railroads go because of the occasional freight movements and other operational aspects of the line. Because of one or two incidents last year that would be reportable under FRA guidelines, the FRA has decided to more closely monitor the railroad's activities. Though the Colorado & Southern engines 12 and 9 add a great deal of curb appeal, the FRA needs to not only inspect the locomotives for public safety, but to oversee other operational aspects such as brake mechanisms.

This new attention by the FRA may indicate a renewed interest in tourist railroads by the Railroad Safety Advisory Committee, an industry expert panel for the FRA. According to Flatau, the committee is going to look at extending Federal regulations to the tourist railroads where the FRA deems it necessary for public safety. On the other hand, the open feuding between the former operator of the loop and the Colorado Historical Society has certainly played a role in getting the FRA to inspect the railroad. How it will impact Railstar's operations is still unclear, but it's obvious Railstar did not send invitations to the FRA. Number 12 is still to be inspected and hopefully it will be ready for the opening day festivities on May 24th, Memorial Day weekend.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Times And Seasons In The I-70 Corridor

It seems like another era when I was a kid in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. My dad would take me hiking, camping and jeeping. What I enjoyed most was fishing. There were days when we took our eight-per-person limit of fish from places like Lake Ivanhoe, Allen's Basin and Yamcola Reservoir. We learned that there were times and seasons when the fish were biting. Some times we happened to hit it just right and we couldn't keep our lines in the water for all the fish we were catching. More often, however, we had between few and none to show for our travels.

Right now, articles like this are common because the time and season is right to fund and build a rail-based solution for the I-70 corridor. This is the time that the Interstate 70 driver has nearly every reason to ditch his car and board a train bound for the Colorado high country. Crowding on the highway is at an all time high and likely will continue to climb for at least the next 20 years. Gasoline prices are prohibitively expensive, causing families to cancel or scale back their plans. These same prices are fueling an employment boom on the western slope, which sits on a vast reserve of oil and gas. I-70 figures to be the one highway everyone is talking about and trading in rubber on asphalt for steel on steel sounds more and more reasonable with every penny-per-gallon and every car-per-day.

Though it pains me as a consumer to say this, the worst thing that could happen as far as I-70 rail proponents are concerned is for gas prices to drop or remain at it's present level. Consumer demand would adjust and prices would normalize, and the numbers of voters and drivers willing to support a rail-based option would not expand but contract. Talks of a solution would shift to paving or other low-cost quick fixes.

Strategically speaking, the push for rail needs to grow and change from promoting a "gee, isn't this a good idea" aspect to advocate a lasting, growth-minded improvement that will offer Colorado a 50-80 year solution instead of a 10-20 year fix. Opponents of rail really don't have anything to compete with that, and their only gripe will be the price involved in any lasting change. Colorado has put off this solution for too long and we are reaping the results of such deference today. Our choice is, do we perpetuate the cycle and produce the same-old tired approach of more lanes in finite space or do we end it by instituting an improvement that will last longer and go further to build our economy?

I don't get up to the mountains as much as I used to. That's a refrain we'll hear more and more as the Rockies become our biggest liability, rather than our biggest asset if we continue to pave our way with good intentions. Rail offers true options, and the season has never been better to start building.

Colorado's Newest Steam Locomotive In Action!

As a follow up to my Thursday post, Stirrings of Summer This Weekend, I have one cool link to pass on to you. Nathan Zachman was one of the lucky ones to catch San Luis & Rio Grande #18 out this first weekend in May. Please take a look. Yes, that is a standard gauge engine on welded rail. Yes, that is a flying Rio Grande logo on the side of the tender. Yes, standard gauge steam is alive and well in Colorado!

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Colorado's Railroads Driving Fuel Efficiency, Clean Energy

The Denver Post picked up an article titled Rolling With the Wind by Steve Raabe on the ways railroads in Colorado are not only fuel efficient movers of freight. They are also building the clean energy industry by serving a windmill manufacturer in Windsor, Colorado by way of the Great Western Railway. It's a good read, especially for those who want to understand why rail is so vitally important to Colorado's economy, especially in light of the energy boom.

A Hogger Shares His View Of The Moffat Route

When Cyrus Osborne of EMD sat up in a locomotive cab in 1944, he mentioned to the engineer that a lot of people would pay good money to have a seat up front, taking in the grandeur as they rolled through Glenwood Canyon, east of Glenwood Springs. Later that day, Osborne would design the first draft of what would become the Vista Dome car.

The views of western Colorado continue to inspire, as you can see from the photos from an engineer on the Moffat Route available here. These are rare photos that are worth a look!

Amtrak's California Zephyr Detoured, Then Stopped

There's going to be at least three posts today, including this one. Rather than put it all under one mega-post and make you read through all of it. I decided to split them up.

Kevin Morgan, who runs, was out photographing some rare power and unique sidings when he heard Amtrak's California Zephyr on his scanner. This particular train was detoured off the normal Burlington Route rails because a barge rammed a bridge in Iowa. Kevin caught up with the CZ at Leyden, already nine hours late.

It seems this train made it as far as Reno, Nevada, before it was turned around and sent back to Chicago because it was over 12 hours late due to the detour and traffic delays. Whether it's in or out of service on it's return is not known. Because the train was not provisioned at Emeryville, California, stocks on board the dining car will likely be near empty for the return trip. If it is running as number 6, I imagine it's probably going to be making a Harvey House stop (or three) on the way back.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Stirrings Of Summer This Weekend

Despite the previously mentioned canceled work session, this first weekend in May is shaping up to be a busy one for railroads in Colorado. Tomorrow (Friday), Durango will be having their Annual Narrow Gauge Day with BBQ and western music by the Bar D Wranglers out in front of the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad depot. This ceremonially kicks off the summer runs to Silverton, which will increase to four trains a day from June to August to accommodate the demand for the black engine and yellow cars so symbolic of southwestern Colorado and of narrow gauge railroading.

On the Front Range, the Colorado Railroad Museum will open it's doors wide to the public on Saturday, offering a free admission day. For families strapped for cash, this is a nice break on the price, although the museum can always use more support. Trains will not be running Saturday. A list of their scheduled steam ups are available at the museum site and are listed on the Colorado Railroads Calendar.

Finally and most importantly, this is the weekend of the La Veta Pass Explorer expedition from Trains Unlimited. According to their site, steam engine #18 is going to make its first revenue run over La Veta Pass with this excursion. Obviously, this trip is sold out, but there is no limit on photographers on the photo line. Good luck and good hunting, gentlemen!

C&TS Cancels One Work Session, Still Offers Charters For 315

The Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad is reporting that the special work session S1 is canceled. The work session was scheduled for the week of May 5-9, 2008.

Additionally, the C&TS reports that the Friends' Locomotive 315 Charter on Saturday June 21, 2008 is sold out. However, the Cumbres & Toltec is still offering a number of 315 charters during its three-week visit to the C&TS. Please call the railroad's toll free number 1-888-CUMBRES for information and reservations.