Sunday, October 14, 2012

Today's Train of Thought- As the World Minturns, October 14

Today's train of thought takes us to the Rocky Mountains and the tiny burgh of Minturn, situated along the Rio Grande's Tennessee Pass line.

Constructed as a narrow gauge line to tap Colorado's mineral rich interior from Pueblo, the Tennessee pass line was jointly constructed by the Colorado Midland and Denver, Rio Granfe & Western in 1890 to replace a DRG&W narrow-gauge line that had been completed in 1881. Although once the opening of the Moffat tunnel and Dotsero cutoff in the late 1920s and early 1930s relegated the Tennessee Pass line to a secondary route, the line regained importance with the Rio Grande's 1988 merger with the Southern Pacific. The line was used to bypass the increasingly congested Denver & Salt Lake route as well as the Moffat tunnel bottleneck, giving freight trains a fairly straight shot over the former Missouri Pacific line between Kansas City and Pueblo, Co, over Tennessee Pass before rejoining with the Denver & Salt Lake route and then the Southern Pacific line between Salt Lake City and Sacramento via Donner Pass.

However, this revival lasted less than a decade. With Union Pacific's 1996 takeover of the Combined SP/DRG&W system, the UPRR decided that the Tennessee Pass line was redundant and embargoed it within a year. To this day, the line remains intact, but aside from the frequent ballast train or hi-rail inspection, the line hasn't seen a through train since 1997. Although re-opening the line would alleviate some of the congestion along the Moffat Tunnel and Denver & Salt Lake line to the north, part of the problem is that portions of the former Missouri Pacific line between Pueblo and Kansas City have been abandoned- any UPRR trains using the line would have to traverse the busy Joint Line between Denver and Pueblo.

Here, in happier times, contributor Mark Possin caught an Eastbound train powered by a quintet of SP/Rio Grande GP40-2s passing through Minturn with Rio Grande #3132 on the head end in September 1994. This stretch of the Tennessee Pass line is seen hugging the banks of the Arkansas River as the hard-working EMDs are lugging loads of steel coil behind them- most likely from the now defunct Geneva Steel Works near Provo, UT.

Within three years of this photo, the line would be embargoed by Union Pacific.

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