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Hear that lonesome whistle

Brief by Central Staff

Transportation – June 1997 – Colorado Central Magazin

Steam may make its last visit to Brown’s Canyon and Tennessee Pass this month, when the Royal Gorge Steam Special, powered by Union Pacific Locomotive 844, chugs through.

The passenger excursion will leave Denver June 21, and stop that night in Cañon City. It will pass through Salida, Buena Vista, Malta, and Minturn on June 22, stopping for the night in Glenwood Springs. On June 23, it proceeds to Salt Lake City for the National Railway Historical Society convention.

Don’t even think about getting a ticket now — the excursion, sponsored by the Central Coast Railway Club, has been sold out for months.

By the time this train whistles for one of our crossings, we should have a better idea what will happen to the rails along the route.

On June 20, the Colorado Office of Economic Development will open bids from operators interested in the Tennessee Pass line and the old Missouri Pacific line east from Pueblo.

The UP wants to abandon both routes, but when Gov. Roy Romer agreed not to oppose the UP merger last year, he got the UP to agree to sell them to a designee of the state.

That could be a short-line operator, or perhaps the state itself for a rail-trail. The state has been soliciting interest since last summer.

So far, 14 entitites have paid $500 to get the bid packet, which contains some proprietary information about the property. Those interested range from potential full-line operators like Tim Eklund to the Royal Gorge Scenic Railroad, which wants to run dinner trains between Cañon City and Parkdale.

Among the entities is Vail Associates, whose interest — not announced — could be real estate, transportation, or trails.

As for the current service on the line, UP is running about 12 trains a day, down from 20 a year ago. Already some taconite trains that run between Minnesota to Utah have been diverted, and UP plans to divert mixed-merchandise trains to other routes (Moffat Tunnel or Wyoming) in early July.

This fall, UP intends to move the eastbound coal trains off the route, and for the first time since 1881, no trains will run across Tennesee Pass. After that, UP must demonstrate to federal regulators that it can serve its customers without using Tennessee Pass, and only then can the rails come up.