Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Colorado Day Quiz

A railroad question made it into the Colorado Day quiz offered by the Denver Post.

Spoiler warning: Stop reading unless you want some serious clues as to the answer.

Interesting enough, the Denver & Rio Grande pulled up the narrow gauge rails over this pass as they withdrew from the Blue River basin early on in its history. Few railfans realize that the Rio Grande reached all the way to Summit county, and did so by first going to Pueblo and then up the Arkansas all the way to its source. There would have been no Ski Train to Breckenridge however. Aside from the length of the trip, Breckenridge was still just a mining town and Copper Mountain was still just a hillside above non-descript Wheeler Junction. Nevermind the fact that skiing was relatively unknown in 1923 at the time Rio Grande abandoned the 36 miles of rails on the Blue River Extension.

One final hint: The pass is still reached by rail, although the trains don't quite reach it.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Colorado Railroad Museum Needs Volunteers For Day Out With Thomas

The call is out for volunteers in the Denver area for the Colorado Railroad Museum's Day Out with Thomas event. The last three weekends in September, each Saturday and Sunday (no Fridays this time), the museum will host what Executive Director Donald Tallman calls "our most important fundraiser of the year."

Thomas & Friends has been on television since 1984, making the series 24 years old. While not every railfan enjoys the little blue engine, Thomas has introduced many a toddler to railways, Brittish railways but railways nonetheless. What the Day Out With Thomas event does is bring out people to the Colorado Railroad Museum who would not otherwise have cause to visit. Each year, those visitors are exposed to the museum and its presentation of Colorado's unique and storied railroad history, including children who have never heard of Galloping Geese, rotary snowplows or garden railways. What starts out with a little blue toy could end up as a life-long love of all things railroad and a special fondness of the railroad museum. The event itself is the key and it can't happen without volunteers.

"This event has been successful in the past due to the outstanding volunteers we have had. It takes nearly 100 volunteers per day to run the event. We can't do it without volunteers," Tallman says. Contact for more information or to sign up to help with the Day Out With Thomas event. You can also call 303-279-4591 and ask about volunteering. You can even tell them Colorado Railroads let you know about it.

Here is a YouTube video of an early Thomas event at the museum. Be warned, however, that if you don't like bouncy, happy children's songs sung by children with English accents--and really, who doesn't?--it's best that you mute the audio.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

RTD Ponders Future of FasTracks

Denver's RTD is pondering unpleasant options as its initial $4.7 Billion estimate for completing FasTracks is falling short of actual costs by a considerable percentage. Now admitting to as much, RTD is now considering three main options or a combination of the same to bring costs under control. The age-old triple constraint is at work as illustrated in the civil engineers' mantra: "Quick, inexpensive, or to specifications; pick two."

If Denver wants their FasTracks program on time and (relatively) inexpensive, the third constraint, finishing the job to specifications, they must sacrifice their original objectives of a complete system. When an area that was supposed to get light rail or commuter service gets word that it won't, it's a safe guess that they will be less than pleased at the news. Access to dedicated, efficient mass transit plays a major role in property values. A sagging economy and rising gas prices will immediately impact those values if a proposed light rail line or a portion of it is abandoned or spun as "indefinitely postponed."

If they want it relatively on time and to specifications, the cost is going to go up by more than just a little. The same sagging economy makes this a very painful option that may be out of reach for RTD. Increasing taxes in a recession is similar to reversing the bilge pumps to pump in water on a ship that's already got a hole in its side. The local economy could grind even slower and the property values would eventually sink when people realize they can't make a living in Denver.

If Denver wants the program inexpensive and to specifications, the third constraint of time will overrun the estimates. This will give more time for the existing taxes to raise more money, provided inflation does not become an issue. By far, this is the most attractive option but it may be only partially effective. Waiting longer to complete some or all of the remaining lines will have the smallest impact on property values if the certainty of completing the lines is real. Time seems to be the one thing people have faith in, Eventually, Denver still would have a first-rate transportation system serving its population and adding incentive for further growth, just slower and more sustainable.

As any one of Denver's successful microbrewers could tell you, timely maturation is an art. You can rush things, but that can ruin it. Waiting too long can be equally costly, but this is one time that spacing things out until economics improve seems the best course.

Update 8/24/08: Latest estimate is $1.8 Billion shortfall.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Cheyenne Frontier Days Special Train Tops Summer Weekend In Colorado

This is just a reminder to everyone about the activities tomorrow. Any time you're looking for updated information on Colorado railroads, be sure to drop by the Special Events Calendar.

First, we have the Cheyenne Frontier Days Special Train run by Union Pacific between Denver and Cheyenne. The train runs again tomorrow. While the tickets have been sold out, there's likely to be a spot or two open on the photo line. This will be the last scheduled run of UP steam on the Front Range this year, seeing that the 2008 State Fair Express is already canceled.

Second is the Colorado Railroad Museum's 4th annual Wine & Cheese Train. An historic narrow gauge passenger train powered by a steam or diesel locomotive will run at approximately 20-minute intervals between 10 am. and 4 p.m. on the museum grounds.

Third and last is the Colorado Wildflower Special on the Leadville, Colorado & Southern. The train is scheduled to leave the station at 10:00 a.m. The tickets run $40.00.

Have fun this weekend, and don't forget to check the weather!
Chris May's Photos of the Cheyenne Frontier Days Special

Thursday, July 17, 2008

UP Has Change Of Heart Toward Grand County Club

In follow up to last month's post Grand County Residents Scramble To Save Buildings From UP Wrecking Ball, it now appears that Union Pacific has decided to step in and help the club. According to Ski Hi News' Tonya Bina,

The railroad has offered to pay for the removal of the building, Bumgarner relayed to commissioners Monday, rather than have the small club bear the cost of demolition. It also has offered to reimburse the railroad club for improvements it made to the building since last summer when the club acquired it through a county treasurer’s sale for $100.

This is terrific news for the small club, which recently got word that it is likely going to receive a 99-year land lease from the county near Kaibab Park. The group is planning a two-story structure with park facilities and a museum on the ground floor and a large model railroad layout on the second floor. The club is applying for a $100,000 grant from--of all sources--the Union Pacific Railroad.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Rio Grande Scenic Railroad Brewfest Draws 500

Alamosa's Valley Courier published an article covering the Rio Grande Scenic Railroad's Rails & Ales brewfest. At least 400 participants came from the Alamosa side and another 100 from La Veta station to soak in some sun, music and special brews from 16 microbreweries in the area.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Friday, July 4, 2008

Moffat Road Exhibit Opens In Steamboat Springs

The Tread of Pioneers Museum in Steamboat Springs has opened an exhibit called “Cows, Coal and Commerce: 100 Years of the Moffat Railroad in Steamboat Springs.” Read the article...

C&TS Soldiers On Through June Into July

Happy Fourth of July to everyone!

Tim Tennant of the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad released this information to us earlier this week regarding ridership numbers for the season.

As of Thursday June 26 the Cumbres & Toltec has carried 8,032 passengers which represents a decline of 3.9% from the 2007 season. However, in the first 26 days of June 2008 the C&TS has hauled 6,467 passengers compared to 6,207 for the same number of days in June 2007 for a 4% increase. The heaviest day of the season so far for passenger count was Saturday June 21 when 462 passengers rode the railroad. Thanks to all who have ridden so far this year and we encourage those who have not to take a ride on the Cumbres & Toltec!

Gas currently hovers around $4.oo - 4.25 per gallon, and that certainly explains the lackluster figures. Yet, this is a relief to those concerned that too many would stay away and certain operations may not survive. At this point, at least for the C&TS, there are signs that this season will not be a disaster.

On a related note, Work Session C photos are also available showing the Friends of the C&TS and their progress.