Rewind the calendar to early 1996 for a moment, and let's fantasize a bit. It's not quite a year since the BNSF system has been formed by merging the AT&SF and the BN systems (including component railroads). UP has absorbed the C&NW. Now, Phil Anschutz has approached the UP board with a proposal to sell the SPL System to Union Pacific-- a huge merger to rival the Burlington Northern Santa Fe. So far, this is what actually happened.
Now, suppose, when the proposal went before the Surface Transportation Board, the BNSF directors balked at the idea. This gives UP unfair competitive advantage in Colorado and Utah, they say. We oppose this merger unless SPL agrees to spin off the D&RGW system and the SP's Donner Pass route, and we will purchase it for X million. Now it's a stare-down between UP's Dick Davidson and BNSF's Robert Krebs. Davidson has no love of the Rio Grande-- it's been a thorn in the side of the UP since its founding, and the two railroads have been at war for decades. He would like nothing better to squash the D&RGW, or control it (and thereby marginalize it). On the other hand, its EBIT is fairly small, and its operating profile is risky. Anschutz has a sentimental attachment to the Grande, it being his first railroad to own, but smells an opportunity to recoup some cash in the deal. Krebs sees an opportunity to add some stable contracts to his railroad's portfolio, as well as a solid connection to central California from the east-- at least, more solid than a simple trackage-rights arrangement.
Davidson thinks it over. The SP line is a valuable asset and he doesn't want to part with it. But the Rio Grande is in need of serious upgrading, plus there's the anticipated expense of rebuilding the Kansas Pacific to take the Colorado coal to market. He makes a counter-proposal: Sell the D&RGW to the BNSF, and grant trackage rights from Salt Lake to Stockton in exchange for UP rights from Salt Lake to Denver and Pueblo (laughing up his sleeve at that last part). Since BNSF has an eastern connection at Pueblo, Davidson demands that the D&RGW trackage rights arrangement over the decrepit Missouri Pacific Towner line be terminated. That way he can abandon that line as well.
Krebs and the board think about it, and decide to accept the counter-offer. Anschutz pockets a couple hundred million. The bewildered STB signs off on the agreement, and in September 1996 a massive reshuffling of legal documents and railroad assets occurs. All the wandering Rio Grande locomotives return to home rails, even the ones wearing SP colors (which pleases Krebs, who's an SP alum).
Now, a tri-weekly freight with UP power travels BNSF's Moffat line, and a similar operation cycles to Pueblo. BNSF takes over the Colorado and Utah coal operations, using a mix of heritage DC locomotives, BN SD70MAC's, and as time goes on, more AC power from both GE and EMD. BNSF establishes TOFC service between Denver and Stockton, and double-stack service via the Tennessee Pass route. The citizens of Avon and Minturn sigh as the railroad continues to operate and blow horns at night near expensive ski condos.
Likely? Probably not. After all, this is not what happened. But it *could* have. In some ways I think this would have been a better outcome for all involved. But I doubt anyone even suggested it.
So, let's have some fun! In the BNSF scenario, my railroad has an incredibly colorful mix of power. The rainbow includes Warbonnets of both yellow/blue and silver/red varieties, Cascade Green, "Executive" green SD70MAC's, BNSF Orange in Heritage 1 and Heritage 2 schemes (later the "Wedge"scheme as well), Oakway blue/white, and an occasional Rio Grande black/gold unit. The occasional UP train passes through with its Armour Yellow locomotives, and Amtrak and the Ski Train maintain their presence as well.
Operations are predominantly coal, but we have a daily piggyback train each way, one or more freights, daily Amtrak, seasonal Ski Train trips (Phil insisted it keep operating), and occasional UP freights. The TOFC ramp at North Yard is retired in favor of BNSF's adjacent, larger facility.
(For reference, here is the track plan.)