December 2008

Variety in Colorado

page 2: Railfanning the Moffat

Day 1

Snow. Lots of it. Streets and highways of snow and ice; mountains obscured by falling white stuff. On my way down to Golden, I side-tripped up Colorado 72 towards the Coal Creek overpass. There was a manifest train making its way up the hill through tunnel 1, and I decided to try to beat it to Plainview. Forlorn hope, that, and a bad decision. I drove way too fast along the Plainview access road and made up some time, but once I got to the steeply-climbing hairpin portion of the road, I was done. My light truck couldn’t find any footing, and I had to turn back.  Strike One.


Day 2

The weather was somewhat better, and so were the roads. Amazingly, there was another manifest train going up the hill at the canyon mouth, essentially at the same place as the one the day before.

This one was a BNSF train with a two-unit pusher DPU’d on the end. I didn’t see the head-end power, but got these photos of the tail as it shoved up the hill.
Here the power crosses the overpass at highway 72 at the mouth of Coal Creek canyon.  (compare to this shot from 1983-- nearly 26 years prior!)
That warbonnet was looking pretty sharp!  Dash 9-44CW No. 744 was delivered new to the Santa Fe, and after the merger was relettered to BNSF, but not repainted.  Somebody has been treating her nicely, recently...

I knew that going to Plainview would mean that I’d never see this train again, plus I had seen another train further up the tunnel district as I approached, so I headed up Coal Creek canyon to Pinecliffe. Near Wondervue the road became icy again, severely restricting my speed. Despite that, I beat the train to Cliff. (I heard the other train hit the detector west of Cliff, so that one got away.  Pretty sure it was a UP coal train.)  I got stuck in the snow turning around in Pinecliffe, but fortunately had brought a shovel and was able to dig out without much trouble. I went back to the hilltop above tunnel 29, parked, and hiked through the snow out to the edge of the cliff.

It wasn’t a long wait. Within a few minutes the train came into sight, moving up the canyon at good speed.
Three Dash-944CW’s in the H2 paint scheme were on the head end of the manifest freight as it headed into the 12-degree curve below tunnel 29.
Very festive shot for the start of the Christmas season, no?
From my vantage point I could look straight down at the west end of tunnel 29. The view makes the train look like it’s down in a shaft, although it’s actually open to the left. The cliff is quite sheer here, and I wasn’t going to venture any closer to the edge in this snow…
Midsection of the train, viewed across the horseshoe curve.
And here’s the pusher pair again.

All told there are 22,000 horsepower and 30 driving axles on this train, which is actually more than are usually found on BNSF coal trains moving south out of Denver over the Palmer divide. Which probably explains why this train was clipping right along, whereas those coal trains really struggle…

I decided to try to catch the train one more time, and headed for Rollinsville. Amazingly enough, I beat it there, and set up at the west end of Rollins siding. Beat it by 30 seconds, that is.

I didn’t mention earlier that it was windy this day. This point was driven home (literally) as I got out of the truck. The wind really howls down the valley in this area, and today that caused severe ground blizzards. Your ears go numb in an amazingly-short time.
The crew gave me a honk as they hustled by, either in admiration of my dedication or (more likely) in sympathy for my stupidity…
The visibility varied by the second, depending on how much snow was blowing past at the moment. By the way, those gons are full of concrete ties, as you can see in this shot.
I tried to wait for the pusher set, but simply couldn’t endure any more. That was it for the day for me.

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