Sunday, August 30, 2009

UP 1989 Assists In Nuclear Fuel Drill

Union Pacific helped Denver Fire and other emergency services in a drill yesterday. The drill involved a truck striking a person and a train carrying a container of spent nuclear fuel. Sharp eyes will spot UP 1989, the Rio Grande heritage unit, on the head end. Denver's channel 7 news has the story.

Friday, August 28, 2009

October 2009 Trains Magazine Special Issue

If you did not receive your October issue of Trains magazine in the mail today, beg, borrow, or steal an issue! "NARROW GAUGE FEVER" headlines the issue and it delivers! Forty years to the month after the magazine's last major look at Colorado's narrow gauge, they come through again.

Map of the Month alone will pay for the issue. Had anyone figured how extensively narrow gauge was used? I would caution you that it's not to scale. Chama is not nearly as close to Durango as it appears on the map. Also, bear in mind that the Narrow Gauge Circle does not appear very well because much of it was abandoned and not converted to standard gauge.

The foldout for Midnight in Durango is beautiful! Summer nights in Durango are laden with coal smoke and the vivid dreams of 4- and 5 year-old boys whose love of trains have just begun.

Don't miss the photo essay, Return to the Land of the Narrow Gauge by John Gruber. Here's the link to the PDF offer of the 1969 photo essay. Back Issue articles also included in the PDF (Colorado narrow gauge articles in bold):
  • “East Broad Top” By William Moedinger Jr., Pages 4-16, August 1941
  • “Narrow Gauge to Santa Fe” By Forest Crossen, Pages 4-13, September 1941, a long, lingering look (for a magazine) at the Chili Line.
  • “Florence & Cripple Creek” By L.C. McClure, Pages 4-5, December 1941, about the already abandoned Phantom Canyon line.
  • “Down in Maine — Two-Footers” By Linwood W. Moody, Pages 28-29, February 1943
  • “Main Line of the Narrow Gauge” By Harold M. Mayer, Pages 18-25, September 1944, details the Alamosa to Durango portion of the San Juan Extension, with a fine-toothed comb aimed at the passenger train named simply San Juan.
  • “Southern Pacific Narrow Gauge” By Lucius Beebe, Pages 14-21, March 1947
  • “Tweetsie’s Last Trip” By Jack Alexander, Pages 24-26, January 1951
  • “Gateway to the Yukon” By F. L. Jaques, Pages 36-43, January 1951
  • “What’s Right in Colorado” By Cornelius Hauck, Page 59, March 1955, a letter from Hauck on Richardson and Helfin's Alamosa efforts at the Narrow Gauge Motel, which would eventually become the Colorado Railroad Museum out in Golden
  • “White Pass Meets Its Match” By Rosemary Entringer, Pages 36-37, February 1956
  • “Into the Freezing Darkness” By Philip R. Hastings, Pages 48-56, April 1956, Hastings sleeps at the Narrow Gauge Motel before bucking the winter snows with now-cold D&RGW engine 499 on Cumbres Pass in 1955.
  • “The Wide, Wide World of Narrow Gauge” By David P. Morgan, Cover, Pages 18-19, October 1969, a single-photo essay of the narrow gauge published on the eve of the abandonment of the narrow gauge from Antonito to Durango
  • “God Made Snow for Farmers and Artists” By John Norwood, Pages 20-28, October 1969, long-time resident of the area, Norwood looks at the Chama turn over Cumbres clearing snow via rotary plow
  • “Extra 498 and 493 West” By John Gruber, Pages 29-37, October 1969 (referenced offer), an effort to look at the Rio Grande's narrow gauge operation from the crew's vantage point
  • “When All Roads Led to Durango” By William Moedinger, Pages 38-47, October 1969,
  • “Out of a Misbegotten Idea, a Not Coincidental Charm” By David P. Morgan, Pages 48-49, October 1969, a single-photo essay on the RGS
  • “The Nation’s Newest Narrow Gauge” By William H. McKenzie, Pages 22-25, April 1971, on the humble birth of the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic
At a mere 104 pages, 13.8 MB, it seems a bit skimpy for those whose love of Colorado Narrow Gauge knows no bounds, but at $5.95, can anyone complain? I had practically no money and I still bought this! The profile of the Rio Grande narrow gauge grades from Alamosa to Pagosa Springs on page 33 is amazing! My only complaint is the ink is too light and requires some contrast work.

Forty years is a long time to wait, but it's beautiful, nonetheless.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Three Hobos Halt BNSF Freight In Glenwood Canyon

Three hobos climbed aboard a BNSF train on Saturday night (22nd) and got into one of the engines on the back of the train. Blowing the train's horn and tampering with the controls, they caused the train to dump its air in Glenwood Canyon. Triggering the emergency brakes on a moving freight is a class 3 felony. From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent:
According to the Garfield County Sheriff's Office, Bradley C. Sanders, 29, David Michael Delvisco, 25, and Mary Ellen Carter, 31, were charged with endangering public transportation, a class 3 felony, in Garfield County District Court Monday afternoon. If found guilty, the three face a possible penalty of between four and 12 years in prison and between $3,000 and $750,000 in fines, for the felony charge alone.
The train was carrying hazardous materials and, had the emergency braking caused the train to derail, the public's safety could have been endangered. The engineer never lost control, however, according to Steven Forsberg, BNSF media relations. The train stopped near the Bair Ranch Rest Area on I-70 in the canyon. They locked the locomotive's cab and ducked out of sight when the sheriff's deputies arrived. With the engineer's assistance, the deputies gained access to the cab and arrested the three, one of which was unconscious and intoxicated. The cab later required decontamination.

There's a romance to the rails, but I'm not sure this is it.

Ski Train Revival Takes Another Step Toward Reality

Iowa Pacific Holdings, the parent company of the San Luis & Rio Grande Railroad and the Rio Grande Scenic Railroad, both of Alamosa, took another step toward reviving the Ski Train. The Denver Post explains,
In a letter last week to the Denver Union Station Project Authority (DUSPA), Winter Park Resort president Gary DeFrange and Iowa Pacific president Ed Ellis said: "It is our understanding that DUSPA had plans to fund as well as accommodate the parking, loading and unloading of the Ski Train near Coors Field on a temporary basis during the redevelopment of Union Station."

Noting that the station authority intended to assist the Anschutz-owned train with the temporary platform, Ellis and DeFrange said Iowa Pacific hoped "to step in and operate a new version of the Ski Train this upcoming winter" with railcars that hold more than twice as many passengers as Anschutz's cars, thus making a temporary station easier to build.
By starting a relationship with DUSPA, Ellis and DeFrange are addressing one of two relationships that must be in place for the Ski Train's revival. The other relationship is with Union Pacific Railroad, the company that owns the tracks from Denver to Winter Park. Once those two are in place, we could see a Ski Train, in some form, later this year when ski season starts.

The real work is still ahead. Neither DUSPA or UP have any obligation to a new operator and rates for platform space as well as trackage rights to Winter Park could be so exorbitant that the ticket price, already likely to go up, would be well out of reach for most skiers. When Anschutz sold the Ski Train, he cited rising costs above and beyond what he was already paying to keep the operation going, something no one expected a new operator to take on.

On the other hand, no one expected an expanded, standard gauge passenger train over La Veta Pass a few years ago, but the Rio Grande Scenic Railroad has made it a regular, daily operation. A lot of people can start up a railroad service, but fewer can keep it running year-in, year-out, especially in this economy. Something tells me that Iowa Pacific is serious enough about the Ski Train. The question is, will DUSPA and UP listen?

More to read:

Monday, August 24, 2009

C&S 71 On YouTube From 1988

In 1988, Colorado & Southern #71, a 2-8-o narrow gauge steam locomotive, operated for a time in Central City. The following video shows some action, along with a tour guide talking about mining technology in the early days and some brief action. Thanks to mspeterson for converting this video and uploading it!

While no one can complain about the tax dollars contributed to Colorado's economy, much of the history of the Central City, Black Hawk and Cripple Creek areas has been obliterated and drowned out by the gambling hucksters who mine the pockets of the middle and lower classes. So much has been lost in these historic towns, not the least of which is a functional C&S #71.

5371 Moved To Ogden UT

The Union Pacific purchased the Southern Pacific in 1996. Since then, UP had pursued a re-painting and patching program that actively worked to assimilate all locomotives gained through the purchase. The Denver & Rio Grande Western had purchased the SP years earlier in 1988, but kept the SP name because SP was the larger of the two railroads. As such, many Rio Grande locomotives were kept in their original livery. Then the UP applied its Armour yellow to many of the SP and DRGW units, some in total repaints, many others in patches applied during regular maintenance sessions. The patches were an adhesive decal plastered over the numbers below the cab window, turning a blind eye to aesthetics in an effort to assimilate all road power into one uniform numbering system.

The refugees from this program concentrated in places like Helper, Utah for years, soldiering on as helper units or local power for years, proudly wearing the unspoiled colors of their former road. Alas, one by one, they too fell under the curse of the patch, until only one Rio Grande unit remained: SD-40T-2 unit 5371. Strangely, the unit was spared, continuing to work out of Helper until its motors failed. Sadly, it was hauled dead in tow to Cheyenne where it was the subject of much speculation. Rumors that it had been promised to Ogden, Utah for display at Ogden Union Station have now proven true. Photos of the unit have been posted to TrainBoard.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

San Luis & Rio Grande Files For TIGER Grant

According to the Valley Courier, rails in the San Luis Valley may see some freight sailing along at speeds up to 60 MPH. If the San Luis & Rio Grande Railroad and its parent company, Iowa Pacific Holdings, LLC, receive a TIGER grant for $80 Million, it would direct some of the ballyhooed stimulus money into the SLV economy. The catch is that everyone is gunning for the funds aimed at transportation, which is "only $1.5 Billion," says CDOT commissioner Steve Parker.

A map of the San Luis & Rio Grande, from their website

Monday, August 17, 2009

Monarch, Marshall & Vail Passes Revisited

I wrote about Monarch and Marshall Passes on CR in 2006, and why the name of Vail Pass was moved from Monarch to a crossing west of Dillon. Today, Vail Daily ironically, covers the history of Monarch and Marshall Passes, with no mention of the original name.

Rio Grande Scenic Railroad Trip Report

I found a trip report that you might find interesting, although I also rode the same route this year. Nascent rail fan, Rod (BlakeCO20) of my hometown of Wheat Ridge, Colorado, has produced a trip report on the Rio Grande Scenic Railroad over the La Veta Pass route. His pictures are worth the click alone.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

KM: Rio Grande Heritage Unit Leads California Zephyr

The Rio Grande heritage unit, UP 1989, was sent out to Utah on Saturday last week and when an eastbound California Zephyr P42 engine wouldn't take a load (run its traction motors), Union Pacific loaned the heritage unit to lead the way from Utah through Denver. That's right, through. Kevin Morgan reports that there was no Amtrak power on hand at Denver and so the Rio Grande continued on east toward Chicago and BNSF territory. If anyone out there spots our unit, let me know! In the meantime, here's Kevin's pictures from the Moffat Tunnel eastward.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Ski Train Revival?

The Denver Post and the nightly news outlets in Denver all ran stories about a possible operator for a new version of the Ski Train, which had it's last season this year before Phil Anschutz sold the equipment to a Canada operator for use on their line.

Iowa Pacific Holdings, owner of the Rio Grande Scenic Railroad in Alamosa, indicated in a June letter to Union Pacific that they would be interested in succeeding Anschutz as the operator of the train that runs from Denver to Winter Park Ski Area during the winter. They plan to existing rolling stock largely idle during the winter months.

Although Iowa Pacific is trying to downplay the idea, saying it's premature to talk about resuming the train, Governor Bill Ritter is planning on hosting a meeting with the parties involved to see how this might happen. To contact the Governor's office and tell him you support reviving the Ski Train, use the form linked here.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Future Is Knocking

This commercial's a few months old, but folks are seeing the not-so-subtle writing on the wall about the future of transportation. If Amtrak keeps their schedule improvements up, the future may already have arrived.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Looking Back 40 Years At the San Juan Extension

Forty years ago, it was still possible to travel from Alamosa to Silverton via narrow gauge rail. Today, it's all a distant memory. Yet, looking back, Durango was a town that stood to lose much if the Denver & Rio Grande Western abandoned southwest Colorado's San Juan Extension. As it turned out, not all of the rail was pulled up, but the narrow gauge circle, which was already broken, quickly vanished after August 1969.