The Union Pacific Railroad assumed ownership of the Moffat Line in 1996,
when the Southern Pacific system was merged into the UP. Soon the line was
relegated to secondary status in the UP system; nearly all through traffic was
rerouted to the Overland Route across Wyoming. A daily piggyback train was
operated between Denver and Salt Lake City until 2001. A daily freight manifest
has been run between Denver and Roper yard. Amtrak continues to use the route
for its California Zephyr. Other than that, the main UP traffic on the
line has been coal trains, moving from mines on the North Fork sub around Delta
and from those on the Craig branch. These are typical long unit trains with DPU
locos, and can consist of everything from old steel cars to matched sets of new
aluminum gons and bottom -dumps.
As a condition of the SP merger, UP granted
trackage rights to BNSF, which began operating a daily-each-way freight train
across the line. There are also rare additional BNSF trains, mostly coal from
Utah. BNSF power can be nearly anything (especially prior to 2001), but C44-9W's
are the most common type of locomotive seen.
The Ski Train continued operations on the Moffat after the merger,
through the 2009 ski season when Ansco closed the company and sold its
equipment. The Ski Train operated December-April, as well as running
summer trains and other specials. Prior to the 2000 season it received its own
locomotives, ex-Amtrak F40PH's painted in Rio Grande colors, and used these
until the train's demise.
(For reference, here is the
Pacific painted six SD70ACe locomotives in 2006 to commemorate some of its
historic component railroads. The Rio Grande heritage unit is usually in
captive service on the Denver-Pueblo freight run, but occasionally escapes and
makes trips up the Moffat. Here it is leading the MDVRO train through the
curves below Big 10. (MTH model)
In 2006, a pair of AC4400's under remote control (DPU)
shove on the back of a coal train as it climbs towards East Portal.
The UP flag unit is about 8 years newer than the patched ex-SP unit on the
Amtrak No. 5 is westbound at Clay, sometime around April 2003 or so.
Viewed from the southwest, it's rounding the Big 10 curve here, with the
plains stretching out to the horizon. And a big tip o' the hat to the
nice people at Adobe...
Westbound freight train, MDVRO, is climbing Big 10 with an AC4400 on the
point and a mismatched pair of EMD's behind. This is the only daily UP
freight pair on the line now. The date is November 2000.
(Lead unit is
a detailed Athearn bluebox, followed by a Genesis SD70M and a Kato
Here the MDVRO passes the west end of Plain siding and is headed into tunnel
(Of course, you can't see through the real tunnel 2; it is too long
and with too much curvature. On my railroad, the opposite portal represents
tunnel 27. That's a lot of compression...)
After climbing to the divide and transiting the Moffat Tunnel, the MDVRO
meets an eastbound coal train waiting in Winter Park siding.
This telephoto view from late 1997 shows an eastbound coal train wrapping
around the Big 10 curves. The rear DPU set is visible above the middle
of the same train. The steel hopper fleet of the various component railroads
is becoming amalgamated now. This particular train is carrying coal from the
North Fork branch near Paonia in western Colorado.
Here's a fairly typical BNSF trackage-rights train from the
early merger days (i.e. from 1996 through circa 2000).
||Late afternoon sometime in November 1997, this eastbound
BNSF trackage rights freight (M-STODEN) is climbing up towards West Portal.
It has a typical merger mix on the head end: BN C30-7, Oakway SD60, BN
SD40-2, ATSF SD75M.
(Locomotives, in order: Atlas, Athearn Genesis,
Athearn bluebox [detailed], Athearn Genesis)
||Not surprisingly, the BNSF train goes into the hole at
Winter park to await the arrival of a westbound Union Pacific DVROM freight.
After the UP train passes, the BN train will have to wait for the tunnel to
vent before proceeding.
||An hour or so later, the sun is down as the train squeals
through the 12-degree curve at Pinecliffe.
||And here we find the same train, around midnight, dead on
the law (exceeded crew hours of service) in the siding at Clay. The UP
dispatchers typically give BNSF trains the lowest possible priority; they
get out of the way of any other train on the line. Hence, this train is tied
down awaiting a new crew.
UP's operations on the Moffat consist primarily of a LOT of coal trains.
Long, heavy coal trains, and their empty counterparts. On my railroad, this
translates to having several unit coal trains, which unfortunately exceed my
siding lengths. In other words, I can only do meets if one of the trains is a
short manifest, or an Amtrak train. But the challenge of running a long train
with 2+1+2 DPU's up the grade can be pretty thrilling. And scary.