What happened to Tennessee Pass?

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What happened to Tennessee Pass?
Posted by lone geep on Saturday, October 8, 2011 6:41 PM

I'm just wondering what happened to Tennessee Pass. I've read that the line is out of service but the UP is still maintaining it. Why is it not use and why is it still being maintained?

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Posted by beaulieu on Saturday, October 8, 2011 8:12 PM

The line is out of service because of the high cost to operate it due to the steep grades combined with excess capacity in the Central Corridor. The UP has retained ownership and the track is still there, but they are not doing any maintenance on the line.

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Posted by K. P. Harrier on Saturday, October 8, 2011 10:19 PM

Perhaps six to eight years ago, this poster passed the out-of-service line by I-70, in the Eagle, CO area.

At that time, it was absolutely appalling how badly the single-track line had deteriorated, with uneven rails and washed out ballast in spot after spot.  But such a sight makes for an incredible nostalgia trip that is not soon forgotten.

As far as the tracks over Tennessee Pass proper, I would imagine it has suffered a similar fate.

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Posted by doghouse on Sunday, October 9, 2011 12:22 PM

K. P. Harrier

Perhaps six to eight years ago, this poster passed the out-of-service line by I-70, in the Eagle, CO area.

At that time, it was absolutely appalling how badly the single-track line had deteriorated, with uneven rails and washed out ballast in spot after spot.  But such a sight makes for an incredible nostalgia trip that is not soon forgotten.

As far as the tracks over Tennessee Pass proper, I would imagine it has suffered a similar fate.

 

Sounds like a road trip to me.

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Posted by lone geep on Sunday, October 9, 2011 8:17 PM

I've never been near Tennessee Pass. I've just seen in old back issues little snippets about it. If it costs so much to operate it and they aren't sending trains over it, why not pull up rails?

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Posted by Paul_D_North_Jr on Sunday, October 9, 2011 8:44 PM

Because maybe someday - granted, perhaps 50 years from now, but - it might be either needed or more economical to restore service to run over Tennessee Pass, as opposed to adding another track to a parallel route to the north or south.  See the little history of Stampede Pass under BN, and then BNSF; also, the increasing importance of Montana Rail Link's ex-NP/ BN lines. 

A couple posters here - esp. Railway Man, also mudchicken, and perhaps some others -  have made a convincing case in other threads here a couple years ago that even that will never happen.  As I understand it, even if the TP route was workable, there are no direct connections at either end that are better than the existing routes [EDIT], or which would have to go considerably out of their way to tie back into the existing routes - so it wouldn't add any capability. 

On the other hand, if something disastrous would ever happen to the Moffatt Tunnel route, then TP might be a good "fallback" route to get back in service in a couple of months, because there sure aren't any others within easy reach.  Look at the big landslide in the Siskiyous a couple years ago, the flooding in the MidWest every few years, the Thistle, Utah landslide in the early 1980's, etc. - "Never say never".   

I wouldn't advocate using TP's 3% grades for loaded trains, but much like Stampede Pass, it might be usable for empty return moves such as "baretable" intermodals, empty grain and coal trains, etc., which would leave the easier grades of the Moffatt Tunnel route for the loaded direction moves. 

Restoring Tennesse Pass to service would be far easier and faster than getting even just the environmental permits to add another track to the Moffatt Tunnel route, through or next to all those high-falutin' Colorado ski areas, what with all the blasting, rock removal, fills, etc. that would be needed. 

Finally, any experienced MOW person will tell you that it is far easier to restore a rail line to service when you have even just the skeletal remains of the former track to work with - 2 rails and the occasional good tie, even with washouts, etc.  Off-track equipment can't be beat for certain tasks, such as filling washouts and clearing slides - but to bring new CWR, ties, and ballast in to such remote areas, even if only to ultimately rebuild the track 100% - is far easier with the old track as a 'base' than with no track at all. 

- Paul North.   

P.S. - I was under the impression that a couple of short segments of the Tennessee Pass route were kept in operation, at least for a few years if not still running.  One was a tourist/ scenic RR operation; the other was a quarry and/ or shortline operation of some kind. - PDN. 

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Posted by ericsp on Monday, October 10, 2011 3:44 AM

"No soup for you!" - Yev Kassem (from Seinfeld)

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Posted by daveklepper on Monday, October 10, 2011 6:45 AM

My understanding is that a small portion of the east end of the line is in operation by the tourist railroad running trains to view the Royal Gorge and may even have freight service for a few remaining on-line customers.  Somebody can answer if that track is still owned by the UP or by the shortline operator.

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Posted by caldreamer on Monday, October 10, 2011 8:59 AM

I agree  with your position on using the Tenessee Pss for empty return trains, but what about loaded TOFC intermodals?  They are light and with DPU you could get them over the pass without any major problems.

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Posted by Paul_D_North_Jr on Monday, October 10, 2011 9:27 AM

Good point.  DPU practices have mostly developed after Tennessee Pass was taken out of service - and that may be a good example of how innovations in technology can reduce, negate, or overcome a physical condition that would seem to make TP uneconomic otherwise.  Yet another good example of why it may have been wiser to just "mothball" it instead of ripping it up - the technology advances may make it usable again.

However, my understanding is that there would be several hundred miles of otherwise unnecessary and unproductive circuitry in using the Tennessee Pass route, in getting to and from it via other active lines.  Since intermodal loads are usually valuable and time-sensitive, and hence distance-senstitive as well - and nothing else about the TP route would speed up or economize the trip, it would seem to be a loser on both counts.

- Paul North.   

"This Fascinating Railroad Business" (title of 1943 book by Robert Selph Henry of the AAR)
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Posted by Paul_D_North_Jr on Monday, October 10, 2011 9:39 AM

See also this Wikipedia entray (usual disclaimers apply):

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tennessee_Pass_(Colorado)

Three points of note:

  • East side grade is said to be only 1.4%; the 3% grade is on the west side.
  • May be latent BNSF trackage rights over it, though that is not documented or referenced.  Also, that Colorado has said that it would buy the line ('Devil's advocate' queries:  For how much and with what money ???) 
  • The author also commented on using DPUs for loaded UP coal trains. 

See also: http://www.drgw.net/info/TennesseePass 

And the overall maps and histories of each route at:  http://ghostdepot.com/rg/index2.htm Thumbs Up

- Paul North.

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Posted by mudchicken on Monday, October 10, 2011 11:47 AM

(1) Line is intact, ready to go as 49MPH TWC dark territory right now....would be running now IF economy and carloadings had not tanked.

(2) Colorado buying the line? Not a chance (somebody's wishfull thinking, trail grab? UP has had to tell the trail people to "get real" several times.)....The Christo nonsense west of the Gorge made that abundantly clear.

(3) Climax mine (above Leadville) re-opened  in July of this year and anticipates shipping at end 1st quarter of 2012 20-30,000 pounds of equivilent refined moly a year (that  tonnage of raw ore isn't going out by truck) with that tonnage ratcheting up in stages. That stuff is headed many places and no longer exclusively to Pueblo. Rumor here is that the hematite ore at Monarch is also possibly making a comeback.

(4) Thanx to a 1905 deal between DNWP & CB&Q, BNSF today has the right to exercise ownership on part* (not all) of the Moffat line, it has no rights on the TP line west of Pueblo/Canon Junction anymore. (Quitclaimed from Canon Jcn to Canon City to RRRR/RGCX )

*(a result of the Gore Canyon War with UPRR ironically)

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Posted by caldreamer on Monday, October 10, 2011 5:54 PM

I ws not thinking of the priority of TOFC trains, only the ability to economicly get the trains over the 3 percent grade.  The fact that TOFC's usually are high priority as stated and extra distance would probably eliminate the pass as a viable route.

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Posted by zardoz on Monday, October 10, 2011 7:13 PM

Paul_D_North_Jr

Good point.  DPU practices have mostly developed after Tennessee Pass was taken out of service - and that may be a good example of how innovations in technology can reduce, negate, or overcome a physical condition that would seem to make TP uneconomic otherwise.  Yet another good example of why it may have been wiser to just "mothball" it instead of ripping it up - the technology advances may make it usable again.

- Paul North.   

Paul (et.al)

The 'physical condition' referred to is the main sticking point of this line. The 3% grade is quite demanding.  A DPU setup might help somewhat, but mostly it is simply a matter of grade and the horsepower needed to overcome it. Whether that power is on the point or anywhere else, it is simply that it takes a huge amount of power (fuel, locomotives) to lift the tonnage over the 3% grade (or to hold it back when descending).  I remember seeing coal trains on that line that had 18 units (all on line): 6 up front, 6 middle, 6 rear. The Moffat line seems to do ok with "only" 6 units for coal trains.

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Posted by MidlandMike on Monday, October 10, 2011 7:28 PM

A point was brought up about the eastern outlet of the line (former MP to Kansas City.) being abandoned.  There are still 2 other outlets at Pueblo.  There is the former Santa Fe route east to K.C. (BNSF getting  rights on former DRGW lines is not unprescedented, as they already have rights on the Moffat route); and there are the BNSF lines to Texas where UP already uses trackage rights for coal trains.  A UP coal train from west of Glenwood could use the shorter Tennessee Pass route on it's way to Texas.  While the same train over Moffat would face 2% instead of 3% grades, once it got down to Denver it would also face the climb up to the Palmer divide on the busy Joint Line.  At any rate the return empty trip would only face 1.4% on the TP route.

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Posted by RudyRockvilleMD on Monday, October 10, 2011 8:49 PM

Three weeks ago my wife and I drove over US 50 from Salida to Canon City, and I noticed the track and some signals were still in place. As we approached Parkdale,  I believe, we noticed a whole string of hopper cars on the track. Part of the Tennessee Pass line between Canon City and Parkdale is used by the Royal Gorge Railroad which runs excursion trains through the Royal Gorge. I wonder who owns the hopper cars we saw near Parkdale?

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Posted by denveroutlaws06 on Monday, October 10, 2011 9:42 PM
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Posted by MidlandMike on Monday, October 10, 2011 10:32 PM

RudyRockvilleMD

Three weeks ago my wife and I drove over US 50 from Salida to Canon City, and I noticed the track and some signals were still in place. As we approached Parkdale,  I believe, we noticed a whole string of hopper cars on the track. Part of the Tennessee Pass line between Canon City and Parkdale is used by the Royal Gorge Railroad which runs excursion trains through the Royal Gorge. I wonder who owns the hopper cars we saw near Parkdale?

 

This was the shortline referred to in a previous post.  See

http://www.rockandrail.com/

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Posted by Falcon48 on Monday, October 10, 2011 11:13 PM

I am very familiar with the Tennessee Pass line and was involved in the discontinuance of service over it.  A few points in response to the various posts on this thread,  which I've made before in other threads:

(1) UP sold the segment between Canon City and Parkdale to Royal Gorge Express (RGX) in the late 1990's, after the UP/SP merger.  RGX is a partnership comprised of the Canon City & Royal Gorge (the tourist road) and Rock & Rail (a short line railroad affiliated with the gravel quarry at Parkdale).  UP retained overhead trackage rights over the RGX line segment, in the event it ever restored through operations over the TP line.  UP also retained the signal sytem and dispatching authority over the line for the same reason.  Within the last 5 years, UP has transferred both the signal system and dispatching control to RGX, which suggests that UP no longer regards restoration of through service as a likely possibility.

(2) BNSF has no trackage rights (latent on otherwise) on the TP route.  They also pretty obviously have no interest in ever using the TP line for anything.  They used to  have trackage rights over the segment between Pueblo and Canon City (which they obtained when ATSF abandoned its own line between these points).  They sold these rights to Rock & Rail at least 10 years ago.  They wouldn't have done this had they had any interest in themselves using the TP line.

(3) As noted in other posts in this thread, a major impediment to a restoration of service over the TP line is the lack of an outlet east of Pueblo.  Historically, the TP line interchanged most of its traffic with the MP at Pueblo.  As a result of the UP-MP merger, DRGW gained trackage rights over the MP line east of Pueblo.  However, as a result of the UP-SP merger and later trackage changes, the MP line is no longer available as a through route. Routing TP traffic through Denver makes no sense. This makes any restoration of service over TP highly unlikely.  The only scenario that would make any sense is if a new connecting were built between the remaining segment of the MP line and the KP line east of Denver, a very expensive proposition for a very inferior route.  

(4) During the UP/SP merger, many parties argued that abandonment of the TP line was inadvisable because the Moffat route could not handle the traffic being handled on the TP route.   The parties making this argument uniformly failed to appreciate the fact that the Moffat route wasn't the alternative for the TP trafficc).  Rather, in the context of a UP-SP merger, the alternative for most of the TP traffic was the UP route through Wyoming, which is what, in fact, happened.

(5) As a result of the UP/SP merger, the TP line was originally discontinued (but not abandoned) between Gypsum and Parkdale.  About 5 years ago (my timing may be off by a year or so), UP resumed some very limited services to the Minturn (west Belden) area.

My personal prediction is that the TP route between Parkdale and Minturn (West Belden) will be fully abandoned within the next 5  years. 

 

 

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Posted by MidlandMike on Tuesday, October 11, 2011 12:21 PM

While I don't dispute Falcon48's historical facts, I don't think you can always use what happened even 5 years ago to predict what will happen 5 years from now in today's evolving rail world.  Someone described the Rio Grande mainline as two coal roads joined in the middle.  If you want to make dire predictions, you might guess that after TP goes, that UP will stop maintaining the Green River bridge and sever the mainline, or at least insist that Amtrak maintain the middle part of the route.  Colorado spent significant public monies building the Moffat tunnel to ensure a viable route, and has a legitimate interest in it's survival.  It's too bad that the Rio Grande was not partly spun off something like BN>MRL.  While both those routes thrive, the Rio Grande has the look of something on borrowed time.  I would think it would be in a larger railroads best interest to have a weak competitor, than to be a monopoly in a region and a target for re-regulation.

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Posted by The South Park Line on Tuesday, October 11, 2011 4:06 PM

I drove over Tennessee Pass at the end of September and I noticed a hi-rail truck and some other equipment near the site of Camp Hale.  It looks like there may still be some maintainence on the line.

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Posted by lone geep on Tuesday, October 11, 2011 7:00 PM

Thanks for the pics. I doesn't look like it's in bad shape. It almost looks as it's all ready to go if it gets reopened.

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Posted by Falcon48 on Tuesday, October 11, 2011 8:27 PM

The DRGW Moffat route is a major coal route, and is likely to remain so as long as Colorado-Utah coal continues to move.  It is also a BNSF trackage rights route, which BNSF obtained in the UP-SP merger.  I don't think there's much chance of it going away in our lifetimes, unless the coal stops moving due to environmental issues.  In my view, the route is more secure as a UP route than it would have been as a short line spinoff.  UP regards the Colorado-Utah coal as an important part of its coal franchise

One little factoid, however, which many may not be aware of.  I don't remember the year but, long before the UP/SP merger,  UP looked at an extension from its Wyoming main line south to the Colorado coal fields served by DRGW in the Craig area - the line may have actually been surveyed.  Obviously, with DRGW now being a part of UP, there's no reason for UP to do that today.  However, if the Moffat route ever became unavailable because of a natural disaster or other reasons, this could conceivably end up being the "fix".

The Moffat rail tunnel (there's also a water tunnel) is owned by a Colorado agency (I think it's called the Moffat Tunnel Improvement District, but don't hold me to that).  UP uses it under a long term (100 year) lease agreement originally made before the tunnel was opened.

 

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Posted by Leo_Ames on Tuesday, October 11, 2011 9:24 PM

Union Pacific must think there's a potential reuse for the line sometime in the next 10-20 years. Millions of dollars of welded rail that is in pristine condition with a lot of ton miles left in it has been left in place for 15 years now for just such an eventuality.

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Posted by Paul_D_North_Jr on Wednesday, October 12, 2011 5:19 AM

Falcon48 - You're right on the "Moffat Tunnel Improvement District", which was run by the Moffat Tunnel Commission, though apparently it was "sunsetted" circa 1996 - 1998.  See (usual disclaimers apply to the Wikipedia articles):

http://www.colorado.gov/dpa/doit/archives/moffat/index.htm#access 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moffat_Tunnel 

The line in the foreground of this old "bird's-eye view" drawing of the region - running west from Pueblo and labeled as "Denver and Rio Grande R.R." - is the Tennessee Pass line, though not labeled as such:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Moffat_Tunnel_Overview.JPG  Since even back then it shows no lines east (or south) of Pueblo, it clearly illustrates the circuitry of the Tennesse Pass route as compared to the Moffat Tunnel route, let alone as compared to the Wyoming UP main line as mentioned by Falcon48 above.    

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moffat_Tunnel_Improvement_District 

http://www.drgw.net/info/TennesseePass 

- Paul North. 

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Posted by MP173 on Wednesday, October 12, 2011 6:51 AM

I really dont know much about the line, having been to the Royal Gorge as a 9 year old many years ago.  It is on the list of my "time travel" trips...the photos of TP line are outstanding.  Nor do I know anything about the UP operations in that area.

Having said that...it seems like any railroad would have the reluctance to abandon a line these days.  While the economy has certainly cooled off and loadings are down, any line that could possibly be used has to be considered as being retained.

Pretty sad looking at those photos of the line with the signals still in place, but perhaps the route will again see trains.

Ed

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Posted by MidlandMike on Wednesday, October 12, 2011 2:35 PM

Paul, what started out as a conversation on the mothballed Tennessee Pass line, now has me even more worried for the Moffat route.  According to you reference  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moffat_Tunnel_Improvement_District  the tunnel was offered for sale by the state in 1998, but the railroad didn't bite, apparently figuring it had little value to anyone else.  If you are wondering if it has value to anyone else, you don't have to look out the West Portal any further than the sprawling Winter Park ski resort.  On I-70 west of Denver, the first ski area exit is for Winter Park. However, you have to first climb the switchbacks on US 40 over Berrthoud Pass, so most cars continue on I-70 thru the Eisenhower Tunnel to the 5 major ski areas on the other side.  The state could extend route 72, obtain Federal money to widen the tunnel, and bypass a major headache on US 40.  Or perhaps the parallel water supply tunnel becomes blocked, and if the state still owns both tunnels, they might appropriates their railroad tenant's tunnel if they had not bought it by then.   The UP could simply redirect remaining business down a reopened Tenn. Pass, using any cost increases as a basis to raise rates.  BNSF trackage rites trains could also utilize the TP, as they have an eastern connection at Pueblo.  Amtrak could revert to UP's Wyoming route as they did in the '70s.   As long as the Rio Grande remains a stepchild, the cards are stacked against it.

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Posted by ericsp on Wednesday, October 12, 2011 10:20 PM

Is there any reason why UP would not just send the trains to Cheyenne then down to Denver if the Moffat route was unusable for some reason?

"No soup for you!" - Yev Kassem (from Seinfeld)

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Posted by Falcon48 on Thursday, October 13, 2011 1:41 AM

MidlandMike

Paul, what started out as a conversation on the mothballed Tennessee Pass line, now has me even more worried for the Moffat route.  According to you reference  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moffat_Tunnel_Improvement_District  the tunnel was offered for sale by the state in 1998, but the railroad didn't bite, apparently figuring it had little value to anyone else.  If you are wondering if it has value to anyone else, you don't have to look out the West Portal any further than the sprawling Winter Park ski resort.  On I-70 west of Denver, the first ski area exit is for Winter Park. However, you have to first climb the switchbacks on US 40 over Berrthoud Pass, so most cars continue on I-70 thru the Eisenhower Tunnel to the 5 major ski areas on the other side.  The state could extend route 72, obtain Federal money to widen the tunnel, and bypass a major headache on US 40.  Or perhaps the parallel water supply tunnel becomes blocked, and if the state still owns both tunnels, they might appropriates their railroad tenant's tunnel if they had not bought it by then.   The UP could simply redirect remaining business down a reopened Tenn. Pass, using any cost increases as a basis to raise rates.  BNSF trackage rites trains could also utilize the TP, as they have an eastern connection at Pueblo.  Amtrak could revert to UP's Wyoming route as they did in the '70s.   As long as the Rio Grande remains a stepchild, the cards are stacked against it.

  As I said in my earlier post, I don't think there's any danger of UP shutting down the Moffat route as long as Colorado-Utah coal continues to move.  I believe that the existing tunnel lease runs out in 2025 or so.  If the coal is stil moving then, I would expect that the lease would be renewed, or some other arrangements would be made for continuation of the route.  I also point out that, under existing Federal abandonment statutes, a landlord cannont force abandonment of a rail line upon expiration fo the railroad's contractual lease rights without obtaining abandonment authority from STB (a so-called "adverse abandonment"), which is almost impossible to get on an active rail line.  The biggest threat to the line is that environmental regulations will dry up the coal moves.   

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Posted by Falcon48 on Thursday, October 13, 2011 1:46 AM

ericsp

Is there any reason why UP would not just send the trains to Cheyenne then down to Denver if the Moffat route was unusable for some reason?

No reason at all.  To my knowledge, UP isn't currently using the Moffat route for through movements. UP is using it primarily for coal movements origninating on the line and its branches.  These, however, are pretty important movements, and UP would probably spend a lot of money to retain them, if something happened to the Moffat route..

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