Brief by Central Staff
Transportation – August 1996 – Colorado Central Magazine
The train keeps a-rollin’
for a while, anyway
Despite opposition from the Anti-Trust Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, the merger between the Union Pacific and Southern Pacific railroads was approved July 3 by the U.S. Surface Transportation Board. On Aug. 12, the board will issue a written report explaining its decision, and the two systems will start combined operations on Sept. 12.
What’s this mean for rail service through Central Colorado, specifically the SP’s line over Tennessee Pass and down the Royal Gorge?
The UP had proposed abandoning it. However, shippers along the route (mostly coal and copper interests in Utah) opposed abandonment because they feared delays if their traffic had to go through the congested Denver yards, rather than Pueblo.
They were also concerned about reliability — the other way through the Rockies, the Moffat Tunnel Route, is subject to the usual hazards of mountain railroading: rockslides, washouts, tunnel collapses, etc. They wanted an alternate route available.
And so, the STB denied UP’s request for abandonment, and told the UP that it had to maintain the line for up to five years until it could demonstrate that the Moffat Tunnel route through Denver could handle the traffic.
But it will be at least 18 months before UP even considers abandonment, according to UP spokesman John Bromley.
He explained that, in order to send more traffic through Denver, the UP must upgrade the line that runs southeast from Denver through Limon to Kansas City (the old KP line). It will need heavier track, new signals, longer sidings, etc.
Only after that is done can UP move traffic off Tennessee Pass and start abandonment proceedings.
“You’re looking at 18 to 24 months for that to happen,” Bromley said. “For the near future, you’ll see about the same amount of traffic over Tennessee Pass as you do now.”
After that, or maybe even sooner, someone could buy the Tennessee Pass line from UP. Eagle County is interested, especially for commuter service linking Leadville, Eagle, Avon, and Vail. Another potential buyer and operator is Western Rail, which finally got a meeting with Gov. Roy Romer in the hope of getting his blessing — no word yet on the outcome.