Busy Times along the Moffat Route

August 8 - 9, 2007

(page 1)

Q U I C K   L I N K S
Lots of UP action
Everything from Narrow Gauge to Modern Age
My Santa Fe tribute
My BN tribute
All kinds of photo essays here
During Summer 2007, Union Pacific performed a maintenance blitz on portions of the historic Moffat line, mainly on the portion west of the Moffat Tunnel itself.  This trackage extends from Winter Park down the Fraser River valley to its junction with the Colorado, thence along that river to its junction with the Eagle.  The portion between Bond and Dotsero was actually not built as part of the Moffat Road (Denver & Salt Lake) but rather to join the D&SL with the Rio Grande.  Now, of course, it's one continuous mainline through the high country of northwest Colorado, and is owned by Union Pacific.

During the blitz, intensive trackwork was performed during the day on Sundays through Wednesdays.  Some trains ran at night, but Amtrak's two trains per day were rerouted through Wyoming on these days.

On August 8th, a Wednesday, we traveled along the line between West Portal and Hot Sulphur Springs, and further west on the following day.  We observed the transition from no traffic to frantic traffic, and it was a sight to behold.

On Wednesday, as expected, the line was quiet except for MOW equipment.

This small excavator was working inside the tunnel, and after a while trundled out into the daylight.  It was pushing a small car/cart that was being used to dump ballast and miscellany.  The excavator itself was equipped with a small clamshell bucket.
Here's the excavator at work, picking up some piles of ballast on the curve leading to the tunnel.
Down at Granby, this SD70M was sitting on the passing track, idling but not doing anything else.  No crew was around, but a string of gondolas was spotted down the track.  It seemed to be on standby for the maintenance project.
We stayed at the Hot Sulphur Springs resort, located at the mouth of Byers Canyon. Hot Sulphur Springs is the county seat of Grand County.  A short walk along the tracks led to this scene, showing a slide detection fence as the track follows the river deeper into the defile.
The west switch of Sulphur siding still has its original searchlight-style signals.  The ones facing west are always on, whereas the eastward ones are approach-lit.
There's more to see in the area besides trains.  This family of otters, for instance... We saw at least five.  In this shot, two of the juveniles have climbed up on a rock near the north bank of the river.  Seeing these guys was the highlight of the entire trip.
Around 7:00 PM, the maintenance window was lifted, and trains began running on the system.  The first train hit Hot Sulphur Springs until 8:30, an eastbound BNSF trackage rights train with a CSX unit in the consist.  About 10:30, a Union Pacific coal train went through, and the parade was on.  At least seven more  trains passed in the night.

(A note about lodging: we were staying at the resort/spa which is located adjacent to the tracks.  They provide earplugs in the rooms, and after that night, I could see why!  There are two grade crossings within a quarter mile of each other, next to the resort, and every train blows for each crossing.  Not a quiet place.  Great if you want to watch trains, but not so great if you want to sleep...)

Next morning, I awoke (again) and heard the sound of diesels idling.  I gathered up my camera gear and scanner, and went to investigate.

A westbound BNSF train was waiting in the siding.  It had a brand-new ES44AC on the point.  They were awaiting instruction from the dispatcher.  After a few minutes, they powered off all three locomotives.  It looked like they were going to stay a while.
Before long, an eastbound UP coal train came out of the canyon, led by C44AC No. 6416.
Here the head end has passed the grade crossing and is approaching the waiting BNSF freight.
The swing helper consisted of UP 7007 and a pair of patched SP AC4400's.
The rear DPU was another patched SP unit.  Here it's receding past the BNSF train.
Change of plan!  As soon as the UP train was past, the BNSF powered up, lit the lights and honked twice, and off it went.  Here's No. 7573.   Two Dash-9's followed, including the BNSF warbonnet No. 681.
As we were getting ready to go to breakfast, a westbound UP manifest freight came by, led by No. 6620.
The train consisted primarily of short covered hoppers, destined for the soda plant at Rifle.  Many carried Winchester & Western lettering.
While at breakfast, we saw a westbound UP coal train pass.  It had an unpatched SP AC4400 running fourth.  No photos of this one, unfortunately.
A short time later, as we were going back to try to spot otters, this eastbound BNSF freight went past.  Second locomotive was a CEFX lease unit, probably an SD80.
This train had a DPU helper on the end.  The train pulled up past the switch a ways, and stopped on the main.
Shortly we saw why.  Another westbound UP freight appeared on the siding, creeping past the BNSF train.
Here it's throttling up as it heads towards Byers Canyon.  It's led by SD70M No. 3971, with an AC4400 and an old SD40-2 trailing.
This SD40-2 was built in 1973.  It's pretty unusual these days to see such old locomotives on mainline freights, so this was a treat.
Amtrak No. 5, the westbound California Zephyr, was approaching, and the BNSF train remained in place to wait for it.  We checked out of the room and prepared to follow No. 5 through Byers.  This is one of the few places where the road shares a canyon with the railroad, and I'd always wanted to do this.  As it turned out, we leapfrogged the train all the way to State Bridge.

Go to page 2

?  2007, James R. Griffin.  All rights reserved.