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Hello All

And happy end-of-covid (hopefully) to all.

Prepandemic I seem to recall some discussion about the reactivation of the rail line from Dotsero to Pueblo, but in all the turmoil the topic seems to have disappeared. The other day I happened to drive from Pagosa Springs up 160/285 etc to Avon CO. A large part of the trip ran parallel to the right-of-way. The line is still there but not much activity is visible. There is a chunk through Avon, but the rail is rusty albeit healthy.

Any News about this project?

John McEnerney

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It is the Tennessee Pass line.  There are several interested parties.  Colorado Pacific Railroad part of KCVN, an agriculture company, offered to by it a couple years ago.  A Colorado Midland and Pacific Railroad, owned by Rio Grande Pacific, reached an lease agreement with UP last year.  Colorado Pacific has objected to STB.  There is some opposition along the rail line to any operation of the line.

Wondering why Union Pacific has mothballed the Tennessee Pass line instead of actual abandonment. It doesn't seem to have much traffic potential these days. But I recall how the Stampede Pass line made an eventual comeback years after it was mothballed.

There might have been some question of responsibility for environmental restoration if the Tennessee Pass line was outright abandoned.

Last edited by Ace

Tennessee Pass came up a couple of months ago, and discussion about why the UP isn't using it anymore. Rich Melvin commented that high maintenance cost is the major factor, with steep grades that require more maintenance (including shifting of track downhill that gradually happens on steep grades), the tunnel, and other factors that contribute to high cost of operation.

It's a beautiful line, so if some railroad can utilize it, that would be great. Hard to see how a short line can make the cost numbers run if the UP can't, but who knows?

Last edited by breezinup

Well, let's take a look at the Tennessee Pass line, then and now, and see if we can figure this out.

  • Before 1980, when the Staggers Act was enacted, shippers could choose any route they preferred, for their freight, and the freight charge for a car moving between the same two end points was the same, regardless of which railroad(s) handled it en route.  Most transcontinental freight was handled in single car movements.  The Traffic Departments of all the railroads had representatives calling on shippers, offering enticements to route the freight over their respective roads.  
  • In that era, D&RGW had two east-west routes that met at Dotsero, Colorado and continued westward to Ogden and Salt Lake City, where freight received from the Burlington Route (later BN), Union Pacific, Missouri Pacific, or Santa Fe could continue via Western Pacific (the friendly connection on the west), Southern Pacific, or Union Pacific.
  • At Denver, on the Moffat Route, the Burlington was the friendly connection.  UP and ATSF could haul it to Ogden (UP) or the west coast (Santa Fe) on their own rails and were the minor connections at Denver.  After UP took over the Western Pacific, they could haul it all the way to the coast via their own iron.
  • At Pueblo, the friendly connection for the Tennessee Pass line was Missouri Pacific, and also the Rock Island via Colorado Springs, at a distant second until it ceased operations in 1980.  The minor connection was Santa Fe.  Missouri Pacific aggressively sought freight from St. Louis and Kansas City to run over its lonely route through Ossawatamie, Kansas, to Pueblo, where D&RGW would receive almost all of it, in interchange, for forwarding.
  • In 1980, railroads began negotiating unregulated rates, and this did not work to the advantage of the Tennessee Pass line, which was expensive to operate, with difficult terrain, and the additional fuel, manpower and locomotives for the helper districts.
  • And, in 1982, the friendly Pueblo connection, Missouri Pacific, became the unfriendly Union Pacific, which had been working against the Rio Grande for a hundred years.  Uh oh.  Predictably, UP mothballed the MP Kansas main line, hauling all that westbound freight on its own rails.  The Mop is still there, heavy welded rail and all, but the block signal system has been vandalized for copper and the rail has been removed from road and highway crossings.  
  • So, what was left to make the Tennessee Pass line viable?  Some coal business, some lead and zinc mines, and a little bit of local carload business.  All of this declined until the day of embargo.

So, now there is interest in reopening the route under shortline auspices.  BNSF does not need the D&RGW and only runs some traffic over it to keep a small amount of business out of the hands of UP.  UP does not need the D&RGW, or even Denver for the most part.  Its Kansas Pacific route between Denver and Kansas City is fading away.

What we need to discuss is: Who will ship freight through Pueblo to or from destinations west of the Rocky Mountains?  Why?  Who needs to run a mountain grade railroad on the Moffatt Route or the Tennessee Pass Route, through the heart of the Rockies when its traffic could easily be routed around them to the north (UP) or south (BNSF)?  In order to own and operate the Tennessee Pass line, for profit, there must be a certain level of traffic.  Rio Grande was a bridge road between carriers which did not operate continuously from the Mississippi River to the west coast before 1982.  Is there any potential for bridge traffic through Pueblo these days? If so, how will it get to Pueblo?  

We would all like to relive the glory days of plucky little D&RGW who played the game well in a time now gone, but customers are necessary.  Even if any should show interest in this little hen house, they will be dependent upon two foxes to interchange the through traffic.  I don't like it myself, but it's not a pretty picture in 2021.

Last edited by Number 90
@Number 90 posted:

Who needs to run a mountain grade railroad on the Moffatt Route......, through the heart of the Rockies when they can route traffic around them to the north (UP) or south (BNSF)?   

Tom, with respect to the UP, isn't  the Moffat Tunnel route more direct to points west than going north to Cheyenne and then heading west? Or does the grade west of Denver burn more fuel than the additional mileage necessary to go to Cheyenne and then west? I'm sure additional maintenance costs are also involved with the Moffat Tunnel route. Cost and time saved - complicated calculations, for sure.

When I rode the SF Zephyr from Reno to Denver, UP's use of the Moffat tunnel line was quite obvious.  They were using it to improve the capacity of the Overland Route as a whole (both Sherman Hill and Moffat Tunnel routes.

I saw many westbound trains of covered hoppers, open hoppers and tank cars, but not one intermodal train or fast freight.

As a former railroad operating man and operations analyst, the reason is obvious.  They were increasing line capacity utilization by running the trains that were not time sensitive on a different route so they wouldn't interfere with the fast trains on the route across Wyoming.

Line capacity is a big deal on the UP.  They are building a lot of third track just so they can take a track out of service for maintenance and still have the capacity for running several trains per hour in both directions.

A factor that rapidly reduces line capacity is differences in speed.  You can run 60 mph trains at a five minute interval and handle 250 trains per day each way on double track.  Throw in a few 30 to 40 mph trains or a couple of 80 mph amtrak traisn and you use a huge number of time slots.

It looks to me like UP's solution is to run many trains that don't need the speed on the slower route.

Malcolm Laughlin

@Ace posted:

Wondering why Union Pacific has mothballed the Tennessee Pass line instead of actual abandonment. It doesn't seem to have much traffic potential these days. But I recall how the Stampede Pass line made an eventual comeback years after it was mothballed.

There might have been some question of responsibility for environmental restoration if the Tennessee Pass line was outright abandoned.

There could be another reason.  It costs a lot of money to take up railroad track.  It's worth the cost when the scrap value of rail is high.  When I was doing studies of line abandonment in 1975-1980, relay rail was going for $400 per ton.  Today I'm sure it's nowhere near that.

So why go the expense of the legal fees for abandonment ?  Looks to me like UP's low cost option is to just let the track sit there and do nothing.

@breezinup posted:

Tom, with respect to the UP, isn't  the Moffat Tunnel route more direct to points west than going north to Cheyenne and then heading west?

Yes.  It is definitely more viable -- for now -- than the Tennessee Pass route, but it's still a mountain road running through canyons for miles and miles, and thus more maintenance intensive.  It only takes a train two or three hours to run north out of Denver on the UP, through Greeley, to the UP transcon.  And UP has long ago moved its preferred traffic off of the Kansas Pacific onto the Marysville cutoff at Topeka, so not much remains going through Denver.  I have driven across western Colorado and Kansas a couple of times in recent years,  Most of the block signals on the KP have been removed, and the track is old looking.  I think the maximum authorized speed on most of it is 40 MPH or less.  It just looks like a line that is out of favor with its owner.

mlaughlinnyc reported seeing some UP drag freight trains on the Moffatt, typical of the few trains still running on the KP.

None of that traffic has potential for helping the Tennessee Pass route.

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