UP cuts rails on Tennessee Pass

Brief by Central Staff

Transportation – February 1998 – Colorado Central Magazine

Tennessee Pass is no longer a continuous railroad route. No through trains have run since August, and on Jan. 5, rails were removed from the main track near Mile Post 273.3 (just west of Malta, outside Leadville) and Mile Post 334.0 (just east of the drywall plant near Gypsum).

UP was supposed to maintain Tennessee Pass in operating condition until it could demonstrate its ability to handle the traffic on other routes after it merged with the Southern Pacific in 1996.

Mostly, UP has demonstrated that it has trouble handling traffic anywhere on its 36,000-mile system since the merger, leading to a special hearing on Dec. 3 before the federal Surface Transportation Board, the agency which approved the merger.

UP then promised it would have things straightened out by the end of the year, but according to an article in the Jan. 6 Wall Street Journal, that hadn’t happened. Shippers said they were losing $100 million a month (merger efficiencies, according to UP, were supposed to save the shippers $60 million a month) on account of poor service, and UP had 179 trains stalled on its tracks, waiting for crews or motive power.

UP maintains that closing Tennessee Pass had nothing to do with this. But a little arithmetic suggests otherwise. Before the merger, there were seven mainline rail crossings of the Continental Divide in the United States: two in Montana, one in Wyoming, two in Colorado, and two in New Mexico.

Now there are six, and it seems reasonable that a 14% reduction in capacity would lead to some congestion.