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The New Royal Gorge War

Sidebar by Ed Quillen

Transportation – August 2001 – Colorado Central Magazine

In 1878, two railroads battled over the right to run trains through the Royal Gorge. Now, 123 years later, two railroads are again fighting over the same piece of track.

The 19th-century battle was between the Denver & Rio Grande and the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fé railroads. Both wanted to build west from Cañon City to go up the Arkansas River to the booming silver camp of Leadville, and there was room in the narrow defile for only one set of tracks.

Both companies hired gunmen, but the battle was settled without shooting in a federal courtroom. The D&RG got the Gorge, and the Santa Fé got Raton Pass.

The D&RG was absorbed into the Union Pacific five years ago, and UP at first proposed to abandon the tracks for 168 miles west from Cañon City, through Salida and across Tennessee Pass.

Then the UP agreed to sell the 12 miles between Cañon City and Parkdale (the siding on the west side of the Gorge), while retaining “overhead rights” — the UP could operate trains across those tracks, but couldn’t serve any local customers in that 12 miles.

The tracks were sold to a partnership between two companies — Rock & Rail, which hauls gravel from a quarry near Parkdale, and the Cañon City & Royal Gorge Railroad, which operates passenger excursions.

At the moment, the partnership is not an amicable one. The CC&RG says that R&R maintenance vehicles have been delaying its trains, while R&R says Federal Railroad Administration regulations give it precedence. UP is still involved, since it dispatches both companies’ trains, but it’s trying to stay neutral.

Mark Greska, CC&RG president, says the disputes also extend to track maintenance and relations with the rafting companies that operate in the Gorge, and that no resolution is in sight.

“I’m afraid this will end up in federal court, just like the first Royal Gorge war,” he said.