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Railroads may complete abandonment in Central Colorado

Brief by Central Staff

Transportation – October 1995 – Colorado Central Magazine

In a couple of years, this sight [a through freight train] could vanish from Central Colorado if a proposed railroad merger goes through.

The merger would combine the Union Pacific with the Southern Pacific, which acquired the Denver & Rio Grande Western a few years ago.

The old Rio Grande main line runs west from Pueblo through Ca$on City to Salida, then north to Leadville, under the Continental Divide at a tunnel through Tennessee Pass, and down the Eagle River to Minturn and Dotsero, where it joins the new main line through the Moffat Tunnel west of Denver.

There’s hardly any local traffic on this line, and it’s expensive to operate. Trains can’t go all that fast on curving mountain track, and the grades at Tennessee Pass are so steep that extra locomotives, called “helpers,” must be added to trains.

But the line stays in use because it can handle double-stacked containers, whereas the Moffat Tunnel is too low.

The Southern Pacific needs that capability. But if it merged with the Union Pacific, then the combined system would have a fairly straight east-west line across Wyoming, a line that can handle double-stacks with ease.

And so, the Southern Pacific has petitioned the Interstate Commerce Commission for permission to abandon the line between Ca$on City and Dotsero, if the merger goes through.

What would happen to the corridor after that? A local short-line railroad? A rail-trail? A mess of competing claims to parts of the property?

That’s anybody’s guess, although the Colorado Department of Transportation is working to preserve the corridor.

In our January, 1995, edition, we devoted four pages to possible futures for the rail corridor; if you missed it, we’ll send you a copy for $2.50 postpaid.