I was invited to speak in Denver in April 2014. Traveling and
returning, we made a loop through central Colorado (Del Norte - Leadville -
Denver - Walsenburg - Del Norte). I'm always cognizant of the rail activity, and
I shot a lot of photos in a couple of locations.
The Moffat Line - The Tunnel District
Since we get to the Denver area so seldom these days we took advantage of the
weekend and took a hike with a friend up in the Tunnel District. We found what
we believe to be a trail leading down from Tunnel 19 Road to the ROW (if this
crossed somebody's property, our deepest apologies-- we really did avoid all
The goal was to have a good hike, trains or no. But hiking along the
Moffat line does increase one's chances of trains. That said: it's always
good to appreciate what the original builders in 1903 achieved up here with
black powder and horse-drawn wagons. I took many photos of tunnels 19 through 22
and the right-of-way between. It was a good way to try out my new Nikon D3100
SAFETY NOTES: Technically, walking on the right-of-way is trespassing. More
importantly, this is a very dangerous area. Due to the terrain, trains are not
audible until they are nearly on top of you. Don't walk through tunnels; this is
a good way to die or at least get injured. Respect the right-of-way and the crews.
||Will you be unsafe around railroads?
Grumpy Cat says "No."
||The west portal of tunnel 19 follows a left-hand curve (I
believe the tunnel is curved through most of its length) and the approach passes through
a long, deep cut before reaching the actual tunnel.
Tunnel 19: length =
||Looking down at tunnel 19's west portal, one can
see how the 1943 concrete portal extension has been buried with raveling material,
justifying its construction.
||Looking at tunnel 20's east portal, from the ridge
penetrated by tunnel 19. The tracks are on a tangent after leaving 19 and
remain straight through 20.
||Looking west through tunnel 20's bore. It is
straight throughout its length, rare on this line. As a result, the
photographic possibilities are endless. The east portal was stabilized with
concrete in 1947.
Tunnel 20: length = 460 feet
||Hiking around the rocky ridge, one comes to the
west portal of tunnel 20. Here I noticed something interesting: much of the
wooden forms from the 1948 portal extension are still there, albeit rotting
away. The portal face catches loose material and keeps it from falling onto
||Here's the west portal. Note that this
portal was rebuilt in 1948, a year after the east end. It has the
nicely-styled facade found on some of these tunnels.
||Note the spray-painted notation 5' 11" inside
the west portal of tunnel 20. This seems to be the clearance between the
railhead and the tunnel wall. Tunnel 21 has something similar painted on it.
||Midway between tunnels 20 and 21 sit two flange
lubricators, one for each rail.
||The east portal of tunnel 21 is located around a
short curve from the tangent that bisects tunnel 20. The entry is cut back
into the hillside and has a slide-detection fence on the south side of the
ROW. This portal and the associated tunnel lining was concreted in 1945.
||If you stand in the right place you can see
through tunnel 21. The curve ends shortly inside the east portal.
21: length = 667 feet
||Hiking to tunnel 21's west end, we see that it
was also recast in concrete in 1945. This portal still matches the rock face
reasonably well. See the interesting concrete stub on the left top edge.
Also note the natural material that has washed down from both sides,
probably during the flooding of 2013.
||Tunnel 22 is just around the curve from tunnel
21. It's quite short and the rocky spur it transits is fairly low. From here
it looks like it's concreted throughout its length. A short slide fence
protects the eastern approach, and I saw evidence that an aspen tree had
come down on the tracks and been struck by a train, right behind where I
stood to take this photo.
Tunnel 22: length = 180 feet
|While in this area we watched
two coal trains roll by, an eastbound load and a westbound empty.
Considering that none of us were novices at railfanning, let me reiterate
that you have remarkably little warning when trains approach in the tunnel
district. You simply cannot hear them until they have already entered the
My scanner's batteries died unexpectedly so I have no
precise train ID's; only educated guesses.
First train: UP 6337 East
||We had enough audible warning for me to move up
onto the top of the cut and watch the train as it passed through tunnel 21.
Note how the interior of the tunnel is well-illuminated. It reminds me of
riding the lead dome of the Rio Grande Zephyr through the Moffat
Tunnel, many years ago...
||The headlights of AC4400 No. 6337 were playing
tricks with the interior of my camera lens!
||Out in the light, now we see the face of No.
6337. This unit was delivered in 1995 as SP No. 292, repainted and
renumbered in September 2003.
||No. 7251 is the trailing unit on the head end,
delivered to UP in August 1999. The revenue portion of the train is a mixed
bag of steel hoppers. Judging by the type of cars and the shape of the flood-loaded
coal, I guess this train was from West Elk Mine on the North Fork branch.
Nice to see DRGW quad No. 12710 still earning its keep.
||The train consisted predominantly of MoPac and
UP quads, including a great number of cars with side extensions. Here the
power is entering Tunnel 20.
||As the mid-train DPU set rolled through tunnel
21, the number boards of the lead unit glowed like eyes in the dark. It's
No. 7952, a C45ACCTE (GEVO) built circa 2012.
||The swing helper is a 3-unit set, per current UP
practice. In addition to No. 7952 we have CSX ES44AH No. 903 (this is a CSX
nomenclature for ES44AC's meeting certain criteria; see Wikipedia for more
Trailing is a nice old patched SP unit, 6216, originally SP 303, delivered
July 1995 and patched in October 2007.
||The trailing DPU today is a nice surprise, EMD
SD70ACe No. 8671. These have been showing up more frequently on the Moffat
recently. Unit built circa July 2011.
Those lights in the tunnel are not
lens artifacts. See below!
||Following right on the heels of this coal train
was a hi-railer pickup truck. I've never seen one following this close
before. I suppose that this simplified things for the dispatcher-- no
track-and-time paperwork to fill out.
Second train: UP 7176
||Nearly an hour later, a westbound empty roared
out of tunnel 19, with C44AC No. 7176 on the point. We thought we might have
heard a train coming, but weren't sure until about 30 seconds before this
||Looking directly down on the lead steed. Note
the interesting positive-train-control antenna assembly on the cab roof. UP
has been installing these throughout its fleet over the past few years, but
I had never noticed it until now.
||The train was all aluminum hoppers, mixed
reporting marks and heritage. Towards the front were a few older CTRN cars.
It's interesting to note the discoloration on the interiors where the coal
loads usually make contact with the metal.
||Trackside view of the cars. This particular one
is CEFX 62688.
The train was running 2+1 with a solitary unit, UP 7295,
pushing on the rear. Watch the
San Luis Valley - The San Luis & Rio Grande Railroad
Returning home on April 14 brought us through the Alamosa area. I saw no
trains in La Veta pass (not unusual at mid-day). There were a couple of
mechanical reefers spotted near Fort Garland, and the East Yard (Alamosa) looked
typically full. Going downtown I poked around briefly with camera. Actually,
these days it's difficult to get well-lit photos due to "urban" encroachment on
the south side of the yard.
The downtown area was jammed full of passenger cars, many
seemingly awaiting their turn in the car shops. I would estimate off-hand
there to have been easily thirty of them, not counting the ones currently in
service by the Rio Grande Scenic RR. Iowa Pacific uses Alamosa for much of its
mechanical and refurbishment work for all its short lines.
||A sample of the coaches parked near the depot in
Alamosa-- some old heavyweight, some streamliners of various ages. More are
on the adjacent track; more in the space to the east towards the diesel
shops; more behind us to the west, all over the downtown yard...
||SLRG's beautiful F10 No. 1100 is parked with a
string of passenger cars just west of the depot. I didn't get around to the
other end for a better look, unfortunately. The two cars at front of the
train area actually just one car, conjoined as it were.
Biggest surprise for the afternoon was this E9
unit, lettered IOWA PACIFIC. The number is not visible but deduction reveals
it's No. 9925. The clues are as follows: (1) all portholes are
blanked out; (2) the presence of ladder grabs on the left side of the nose,
unique to this unit among the Iowa Pacific E units. The combination of these
features is pretty conclusive... It's classified as an E9AM, having
been rebuilt at some point by Morrison-Knudson. The number goes all
the way back to its BN days.
||Nose-to-nose with the E9 is SD9043MAC No. 115.
Seems like I never get a good angle on these guys... One of only two
6-axle freight units on the railroad-- not counting the E units of course.
Four years here now, they seem to be performing acceptably.
||The SLRG has been using a stable of B39-8 units
from GE for several years. I have heard that some had gone elsewhere, but
there were 3 on the property that I spotted this day-- including No. 8577
(center). This unit's been in Alamosa in these colors since 2008. It's a
former LMX unit, like No. 8560 to the right. The 8560 is a relative
newcomer to the SLRG. Also note the pair of F units to the left, awaiting
||These cars look to be in line for
repair/refurbishment. Several look to be built by Pullman-Standard.
The dome car is missing all its glass in the dome. Let's hope they fix it up
and use it on La Veta pass.
|Leaving Alamosa we headed west. I
noted a string of aluminum Bethgons being stored at the Poole Chemical site,
and a small cut of aluminum 5-bay hoppers at Zinser. As we passed Sugar
Junction I spotted headlights in the yard and pulled over to get some
||Another of the B39-8 units, No. 8527, was
switching the yard. This is the interchange with the San Luis Central,
the other short-line railroad in the valley. Covered hoppers, mechanical
reefers, and tank cars form the lion's share of car varieties seen here.
||Of interest were these ex-Amtrak mechanical
reefers-- I saw at least three. Now carrying RWIX reporting marks, they're
an interesting change of scenery.
||Here's a broadside portrait of No. 8527. Despite
the difference in color, I am in love with this revival of the D&RGW scheme.
I'm definitely in love with my new Nikon, a step-change up from any of my
previous digital cameras. Stay tuned for more from the world of railfanning at