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    Posted Wednesday, March 31 2010 at 0142 h MDT
    Today is the anniversary of one of those milestones in US railroading - the day of the largest railroad shutdown and liquidation in history up to that point. On 31-Mar-1980, the great Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad shut down operations forever.

    It's a personal thing for me. I grew up only blocks from the Rock double track west of Davenport, Iowa. I have a few fleeting memories of the last RI trains, as I was rather young when the shutdown came. Throughout high school, college, and my time visiting over holidays, I've spent an inordinate amount of time chasing Iowa Interstate, the Rock's Chicago-Omaha successor. Today I again live only blocks from the western end of the RI system here in Colorado Springs. If it weren't for one house in the way, I could see the abandoned grade from the desk where I'm writing this. I also just finished hanging [this] above my office closet in memory of the line.

    While many people forget about it, the RI was an important part of Colorado railroading. Obviously my main focus these days is the Rio Grande, but the Rock and the Grande shared facilities and interchanged a significant amount of traffic. The two railroads directly connected at Colorado Springs, where the line in from Limon terminated. From Limon, the Rock accessed Denver via trackage rights over UP, and from Colorado Springs it could access Pueblo via the Joint Line.

    Once the Colorado Midland ceased to exist in 1918 and the C&S came under control of the CB&Q, the Grande and the associated D&SL were actually a very large part of the Rock's interchange traffic. These, after all, were the only roads in Denver not to have their own associated route east across the plains. As such the Denver gateway became the Rock's primary terminus in later years, despite being over eighty miles from home rails. Consequently, Rock Island power was a common sight at North Yard and Burnham, where it laid over and was serviced between runs. In fact, the the Rock constructed its last new alignment in Colorado around 1950 specifically to access North Yard. Coming off the UP at Sandown (southeast of I-70 and Quebec St in Denver), four miles of connector were built to a point on the Rio Grande's belt line to access North Yard more efficiently.

    The road's famous Rocky Mountain Rocket terminated in both Denver and Colorado Springs. To accomplish this bizarre feat, the Rock had EMD build two custom E6B units with operator cabs on one end. The units - 750 and 751 - would be the only EMD AB6s ever constructed. They would run as boosters from Chicago to Limon, where the train would split. The Denver section would proceed on with the E cab unit into Denver Union Station, alongside the UP, ATSF, CB&Q, and Grande streamliners. The Colorado Springs section would split off down the branch and use the B unit as its sole power. On the eastbound trip, the process reversed. This continued until the last one ran on 16-Oct-1966.

    The Colorado chapter of Rock Island history actually came to a close on Friday, 28-Mar-1980. CRIP 4313, 4338, and 4326 brought in a westbound freight and tied up at the D&RGW's North Yard around 2215h. Due to snowstorms ravaging Kansas at the time, no further traffic would come before the shutdown order.

    Today, the line from the Springs to Limon is gone, save a few blocks downtown Colorado Springs used as an industrial spur. The Roswell roundhouse in the Springs survives as the headquarters for the Pikes Peak Historical Street Railway Foundation. East of Limon, the Kyle Railroad (part of RailAmerica) operates the Rock eastward through most of Kansas. Up in Denver, the RI belt line connector survives as the Denver Rock Island Railroad, a small industrial switching line.

    I saved "Photo of the Week" until today - it's one from my collection of Rock Island E8A 656 bringing the Rocky Mountain Rocket into Denver Union Station back in the late 1950s. -

    Posted Tuesday, March 30 2010 at 1503 h MDT
    Seeing as this place gets bigger on nearly a weekly, if not daily basis (although honestly most of it nobody notices, since I'm just adding things like roster photos, or updating route histories, or correcting errors), it's getting increasingly hard to find things without a comprehensive search function. The information section had a search, but that missed all of the photo galleries, trip reports, and other corners not contained within the information section. I decided that rather than attempt to implement some local search engine to do everything, I'd just use a service from Google called Customized Search Engine. It allows you to use the power of Google, localized to DRGW.Net. If you're curious, you can try it [here].

    Now the philosophical quandry. The only catch is that unless I pay Google a couple hundred dollars a year, you're stuck looking at ads in the search results. Sorry. I still feel slightly dirty about the whole thing, since I really dislike having anything that even suggests I might make a dime off this place. (For reference, I'm not - Google is, as a price of using their embedded search.) I do this solely out of a love of history and the enjoyment I get from it. So don't worry, DRGW.Net is still the giant not-for-profit money-suck it's always been, and it's not getting any better. It's just not getting worse, either, as a result of implementing the new search function. -

    Posted Monday, March 29 2010 at 1216 h MDT
    I've finally started working the backlog of trips from the last couple years. I thought I'd start with Railfest 2009, since it's been on my mind lately with the announcements for Railfest 2010 and Eureka coming back. The highlight of 2009, of course, was Eureka's return to Colorado rails after four years off. Since I'd never gotten to see Eureka before her flue time ran out in 2006, I was somewhat worried I'd never get the opportunity. Fortunately, that wasn't the case, and I spent the whole weekend riding and photographing the US's oldest operating narrow gauge engine.

    Photos from Railfest 2009, August 13-16, can be found [here]. -

    Posted Friday, March 26 2010 at 1712 h MDT
    The D&S has posted pricing for Railfest 2010. Trips can be booked individually, but this year introduces two new, improved levels of Railfest Passport. The silver passport ($135) will be very similar to the ones offered in years past with shirts, pins, mugs, and 10% discounts, but the gold ($650) and platinum ($1250) levels actually include fare on the various Railfest specials. Gold gets you two days of tickets on specials, and platinum gets you all you can ride during Railfest. The premium price for caboose seats is not included, but I'm told can be had for the difference between the regular prices and caboose prices. (Hooray platinum - it's the only way I could afford everything I want to do this year.) Both upper levels also include night shoots and free transfer fees to other trains, and all passports include free parking in the D&S lot.

    Full details can be found on the D&S's Railfest page [here], and reservations can be made through the usual 1-888-872-4607. -

    Posted Monday, March 22 2010 at 1710 h MDT
    I saw this morning that UP 1989, the DRGW Heritage unit, is on MNPWC-22 (North Platte, NE, to West Colton, CA, manifest) as the second unit out. No idea where it's headed, but heads up to all of you out west. It's just too bad it went west via North Platte rather than over the Moffat to Salt Lake. (Update 3/26 - 1025h): The word over on Trainorders is that 1989 will be leading MWCFR-26 from Colton to Fresno - via Cajon and Tehachapi - this afternoon. Scheduled departure is 1200h PDT, with an arrival in Bakersfield of 2048h and into Fresno at 0226h Saturday morning. - NDHolmes

    Posted Friday, March 19 2010 at 1019 h MDT
    I saw this morning that "highgreengraphics" on Trainorders posted that the Utah Railway's unique MK50-3s may have only about a year left on the railroad. Apparently they're not performing as well as the old Hamersley Iron SD50Ss from Australia, and according to someone at the Martin shops, the lease on them is up in early 2011. No more will be painted in the garish orange, and they'll likely depart the railroad next year and be replaced with better performing power. The thread, for those interested, can be found [here]. - NDHolmes

    Posted Friday, March 19 2010 at 0014 h MDT
    Work continues on the Bijou Crossover resignaling project here in Colorado Springs. When I went by today, all three new masts have heads on them. Somewhat surprisingly, while the heads being put up are vertical tri-lights, they lack the large sunshade typical of UP (and some BNSF) heads in Colorado. With all the heads up, it may not be long before the searchlights fall. You can see a photo as it looked today [here]. If anybody knows if the searchlights will be scrapped (and who or what scrapyard I might contact about them), please let me know.

    The Canon City & Royal Gorge and Rock & Rail have recently made some changes to the Tennessee Pass line through the Royal Gorge. West from Control Point RG159 (on the east side of Canon City) through the Gorge is now governed by track warrant control with automatic block signals (ABS), rather than being dispatched via CTC signaling from Omaha. Per Larry Green, the change occurred in September 2009, and the dispatching through the Gorge is now being handled by a contract company in Vermont. The dispatcher is on 160.590, and the RRRR/CCRG road channel is now 160.710. A photo of the CP RG159 hold signal, in addition to the signs for changing between CTC and TWC/ABS, can be found [here].

    Meanwhile, the Tennessee Pass line past Parkdale is as lifeless as ever. As part of an effort to maintain my sanity, I blew off work today to [go enjoy the 70+ degree weather]. From Spikebuck up to near the Pinnacle Rock river access area, the line is stacked up with stored [cars], [cars], and [more cars]. Also, as a comparison, I duplicated a shot I took back in 2001 with one of the last extras to Malta (I think there was one more after this). Here's the [2001 shot], and here's what it looked like on [Thursday, 18-Mar-2010].

    One last item... When Iowa Pacific brought in two SD9043MACs to run the Ski Train, many of you wondered what would provide head end power (HEP) for the lights/HVAC/etc. on the train. The answer was ex-C&NW E8A 5029B, later known as CNW 515 and then Metra 515. After the Ski Train fell through, IPH had the unit painted for their [Copper Spike Excursion Train] out of Globe, AZ, in an SP "black widow" scheme. Here's the unit at NRE in Silvis, IL at the beginning of February: [Photo #1] (by Dan Holmes) and [Photo #2] (courtesy of Ed Ellis / Iowa Pacific). The engine is finally on the move, and making its way west via the UP to interchange with the AZER. If it's still on schedule, it'll make the trip from El Paso to the interchange at Lordsburg, NM, on Saturday, 20-Mar-2010. -

    Posted Tuesday, March 9 2010 at 0030 h MST
    The old joke about spring in the Rockies goes, "Don't bother coming to the mountains, they'll be coming to you." With this latest round of warm weather and moisture moving through the state, those giant piles of rock out west have not disappointed. Early this morning, a hundred tons or better of very large rocks dropped on I-70 in Glenwood Canyon near the western portal of the Hanging Lake tunnels. The rocks smashed holes in the bridge decks and quite possibly caused structural damage to the underlying bridge. The mess will likely shut down a few lanes of 70 for weeks, if not months while the damage is repaired. Depending on how the less-damaged lanes fared and how much rockfall mitigation needs to be done to remove other loose boulders, it may be days or weeks before any lanes open. Photos of some of the damage can be found on CDOT's website: [#1], [#2], [#3], [#4]. At least Amtrak got a plug in Denver's Channel 9 News [video] about the incident.

    This rockfall was on the opposite side of the canyon from the Grande mainline, and had no reported impact on Union Pacific operations. However, another slide just to the east, between Dotsero and Dell, delayed both Amtraks for about three and a half hours this afternoon. Reports on Trainorders indicate that other slide fences were triggering as well on account of snow and small amounts of rockfall, further delaying operations.

    Just another fun day in the Rockies. At least no one was hurt as a result of any of today's slides. -

    Posted Monday, March 8 2010 at 1435 h MST
    The project to overhaul the area around Denver's Union Station into the FasTracks hub is supposed to officially get underway this week, after receiving $304M in loans from the Federal government in February to help fund the half-billion dollar project.

    The change will move the current RTD light rail terminal out to near the UP-BNSF Consolidated Main Line (two blocks away), install an underground bus hub under the new 17th Street (extending from under the current tracks westward to the light rail terminal), and then reinstall eight passenger rail tracks on top. In addition, a parking structure will be built over the north end of the platform tracks, and much of the rest of the space would be available to private development of high-rise office structures.

    The official website for the project, complete with updates and project details (though somewhat lacking on the latter) can be found at [www.denverunionstation.org]. Probably the most helpful document for understanding what goes where is the 2008 Denver Union Station Master Plan Supplement, available [here].

    During construction, Amtrak will vacate the station grounds as the platforms and tracks will be removed. A temporary facility will be set up on the west side of the tracks near the 20th St. bridge (across from Coors Field). One of the nagging concerns being raised is where will Amtrak passengers park? The honest answer is I have no idea. -

    Posted Monday, March 8 2010 at 1406 h MST
    Last year, the Durango & Silverton ran a photographers' special with only the red (premium class) cars on the day before regular service was to start to Silverton. (For those interested, my photos from that trip are [here].) They're doing it again this year on Saturday, 1-May-2010, and seats are still available. At least the Nomad was full this morning, and I believe the lower cost $169 seats were also gone, but seats are still available (please call the D&S to confirm). I'm booked on the Cinco Animas. In addition to Saturday's special, there's also a night shoot (tickets are an additional $30) scheduled for 2030h on Friday, April 30th, for those getting into town in time.

    For reservations, call the D&S at 1-888-872-4607. -

    Posted Monday, March 8 2010 at 1400 h MST
    The schedule for Railfest 2010 on the Durango & Silverton is already up, and all I can say is... WOW! Railfest events this year will run from Thursday, 19-Aug-2010, through Wednesday, 25-Aug-2010. Eureka & Palisades #4 will be returning, and will be joined by D&RGW 315 and RGS Goose 5. The D&S will also be repainting three passenger cars and a mail-baggage car into traditional Pullman green, to be paired up with 315 at Railfest. This will make for a much more authentic-looking passenger train than the tourist era yellow cars.

    For those interested (and if you're a narrow gauge fan, you should be...), the schedule is posted [here]. Also, if you're like me and can't quite visualize what's going where on what day, I've put together a [cheat sheet] to help keep track of it all. (If you spot any errors, please let me know and I'll update it.)

    Thanks to Yvonne and everyone down there for not only taking Railfest up a notch this year, but also getting the schedule out early enough that we can plan for it (translation: figure out how to pay for it all).

    Also note that Railfest will end just as festivities for the Cumbres & Toltec's 40th Anniversary are due to start up. Plus, Earl Knoob let slip on NGDF that the San Luis & Rio Grande is planning some sort of special for the one slack day - Thursday, 26-Aug-2010 - so it should be continuous railfan fun in southwestern Colorado from the 19th through the 29th. -

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