Thursday, February 21, 2008

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.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Ski Areas of Today Served By Rails of Long Ago

There's only a few practical routes through the Colorado Rocky Mountains, and railroads were among the first to locate and use them. Hardscrabble wagon roads gave way to steel wheel on steel rail in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, guaranteeing the towns and services along the routes a good chance at sustainable success. Where rails were pulled up, asphalt was laid down and nearly all the routes have seen continued use with highways. The only notable exception is Rollins Pass, which was put out of service when the Moffat Tunnel opened. Perhaps because of this, Winter Park, which lies at the far end of the tunnel, is the only ski area currently served by a ski train.

It should come as little surprise that a majority of Colorado ski areas are sited near present day railroads or ghost railroads that have long been silent. Here's a listing of ski areas and the railroad grades that run nearby.
  • Arapahoe Basin - only a few miles separates the highest ski area in Colorado from the highest railroad in Colorado*, the Argentine Central. What's a few mountain peaks in the way?
  • Aspen Snowmass - Back in the day when it was a mining town, Aspen was served by both the Rio Grande and the Colorado Midland. Only last year were the rails of this branch finally and completely removed
  • Beaver Creek - On the dormant Tennessee Pass route of the old D&RGW between Minturn and Dotsero
  • Breckenridge - On the old Colorado & Southern over Boreas Pass
  • Copper Mountain - On the Blue River arm of the Denver & Rio Grande over Fremont Pass
  • Crested Butte - A former mining town once served by the narrow gauge Gunnison branch of the D&RGW
  • Loveland - A few miles from the end of track for the Colorado & Southern's effort to reach Leadville by way of Georgetown
  • Monarch - The old Monarch branch to the quarry below the ski area was removed in the mid-1980s
  • Purgatory (a.k.a. Durango Mountain, a.k.a. Flaming Gates of Hell - a direct translation of "Purgatory" in some languages) - The legendary Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad runs over the same rails that the Rio Grande laid over 125 years ago. Now if the resort could just pick a name...
  • Ski Cooper - This little ski area somehow manages to survive a remote location and competition from larger resorts. Its the nearest area to Camp Hale, the original camp of the 10th Mountain Division (skiing soldiers--biathalon anyone?) whose soldiers returned from WWII to Colorado to jump-start the state's ski industry. It also sits near the dormant Tennessee Pass line
  • Steamboat - On the original route of the Denver & Salt Lake, it is conceivable that a charter excursion could reach this fabled resort town, if it can dodge all the coal trains on the Craig branch
  • Telluride - Theatrically pronounced by the conductors of the Rio Grande Southern, "T'-Hell-You-Ride," this mining town earned a reputation long before the skiers made it a premier resort. Why not go a little further and visit Pandora?
  • Vail - Just around the corner from Minturn and Rio Grande's Tennessee Pass, this resort is one beautiful, legendary experience
  • Winter Park - The only resort served by the Ski Train, it has been long viewed as Denver's best source for packed powder, known to corrupt eastern skiers even in bad years
* The Argentine Central was the highest adhesion-worked railroad in Colorado, what most people would call a railroad. The highest railroad was and remains the Cog Wheel Route of the Manitou & Pikes Peak Railway

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Rio Grande Scenic Gains Two More Steamers

Because D&RGW #683, the single surviving standard gauge steam from the Denver & Rio Grande Western, is preserved at the Colorado Railroad Museum, the San Luis & Rio Grande management continues to find non-native steam power for it's scenic runs on its two excursion trains, The San Luis Express from Alamosa to La Veta and the Toltec Gorge Limited from Alamosa to Antonito to connect with the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic. They recently acquired two 2-8-0 steam locomotives from the Mt. Hood Railroad in Oregon. They are former Lake Superior & Ishpeming No. 18 and ex-Grand Canyon Railway No. 20. The engines are expected to be in service by 2008 and 2009, respectively, according to their web site.

The Union Pacific took the engines over the Moffat Tunnel route only to dump them in the Winter Park siding due to a clearance issue with one of the tunnels through the Front Range below the main tunnel. They are presently in Denver, according to, after a re-route through Wyoming, and will likely be in Walsenburg on Thursday evening, the 17th.

The San Luis & Rio Grande has also started construction of a maintenance facility. The irony is that after Union Pacific bought the Southern Pacific in 1996, it leveled the historic Alamosa facilities. Now, only 10 years later, the short line has turned Alamosa into it's hub of operations and needs a facility to maintain its fleet.

On a side note, the San Luis & Rio Grande also purchased five Santa Fe Big Dome cars from Holland America. The cruise line sold some similar domes to the Royal Gorge Route in 2005, which have greatly added to their passengers' experience. The Budd domes last ran between Anchorage and Fairbanks via Denali National Park on the Alaska Railroad. They should look much nicer than the "vintage" equipment the RGSR has used the last two years.

I think I speak for railfans everywhere when I say I appreciate the Rio Grande Scenic Railroad's efforts to expand the railroad tourism in southern Colorado. I've got to scrape a few nickels together to get a ticket to ride. Speaking of, if you'd like to contribute to Colorado Railroads, you can purchase some items from the Resource Siding at right. A portion of your purchase will help keep this railroad blog running!


Monday, January 14, 2008

Gene Autry's Mudhen Comes Closer To Serving the C&TS Again

Gene Autry's Mudhen, #463, is a K-27 class Mikado that was used by the Rio Grande on her narrow gauge lines and one of two left in existence. Her sister engine is #464 currently working on the Huckleberry Railroad in Flint, Michigan. Since Gene Autry, the "singing cowboy," donated it to Antonito and then the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic, it has seen use on the 64 mile line between Chama and Antonito. However, since 2002, the engine has been sidelined with a broken rod.

The engine recently took a big step toward restoration when the Friends of the Cumbres & Toltec won a $300,000 grant to get it back in running condition. The total cost of the restoration is around $900,000 and the Friends group has commitments for $250,000 above the grant. A lot of variables likely are still blank but the engine could be back in the lineup by 2010, according to the article.