Old and New on the Moffat

The year 1994 was the beginning of big changes on the former Rio Grande.  The dash-two generation of diesels was beginning to wear out, and their replacements were on the way.  The massive switch-over to AC power was still in the future, but hints of change were everywhere.  It was an interesting year to railfan along the Moffat line, with such a mix of old and new power to be seen. 

Here are samples from several different excursions during that year.  Some of my favorite photos are displayed on this page, and I hope you enjoy them!

(Note: most of these photos were re-scanned directly from the negatives and reposted 3/09/2005.  Hope you like the improved image quality. -Jim)

Trip One: July 20, 1994

My family and my brother's family went up to the uphill side of tunnel one to see what we could see.  It turned out that a dense cloud had settled down around the Front Range, making for foggy conditions that were not very good for photography-- or so I thought at the time.  We were standing on top of the portal when we heard the grumble of a train coming down the mountain.  Visibility was about 300 feet right then, so we had no idea what was coming.

 I told you it was foggy...  Look closely and you can see the headlights, the rails, and a "PROPERTY OF D.& R.G.W.R.R.C.O., etc." sign.  That's about it.
 OLD: It turned out to be a Southern Pacific SD45T-2, running light (i.e. all by itself).  We had maybe 3 seconds to point and shoot before it whipped into the tunnel.  No, that photo is not retouched in any way.  This unit was over 20 years old at the time, though it had recently received the new Merger paint scheme ("speed lettering").

We were all a bit disappointed by the brevity of the train.  Not until I got my film back did I realize what I'd captured!

Not long after this, we heard the approach of another eastbound train.  Sound really carries in fog.  Visibility had increased quite a bit, indeed was fluctuating by the minute, but it was still pretty soupy.

OLD or NEW?  Pretty hard to tell at this distance, but it didn't look like SP power.
New!  It seems we have a trio of demonstrator units on the point, dressed in a rather unique BN paint scheme.  These are wide-cab SD60s, with some special features added in, notably AC traction technology.
New: Here we can see the Siemens logo on the side, advertising these units as test platforms for AC traction.  I understand that they were later retrofitted with DC, but it was a sign of things to come.
Old or New?  Again, a little hard to tell at a distance.  The swing helper slowly emerged from the fog.  By the way, this train was the CSDU train (reporting marks CSUX), bound for Colorado Springs' powerplants.
Both!  The swing helper was a tandem of EMD SD70 Demonstrator unit No. 7000 and Rio Grande SD40T-2 No. 5365.


Trip Two: July 21, 1994 (the following day)

This trip was mainly intended as a drive on the Colo 72 - Colo 119 loop, but a westbound manifest was moving through Plain as we approached Coal Creek canyon, so we decided to wait for it at Pinecliffe.  Interest was heightened by the pair of Rio Grande tunnel motors on the point.

OLD: This was a five-unit set of 6-axle diesels-- the aforementioned pair of Grande units, a pair of Espee beaters, and a solid black SD45 with no lettering at all except for a small "PADUCAH BUILT" on its side.  The 80-to-220 mm lens I'd borrowed couldn't back off enough to do any close photos from trackside, unfortunately.


OLD: We're looking right into that oscillating Pyle light, which made the timing of the photo tricky (don't want to be completely blinded by it when hitting the shutter).  Nowadays this effect is done with flashing ditch lights.  I miss Pyles and Mars lights...
OLD but still GORGEOUS: A face shot of the lead unit, D&RGW No. 5393.  I didn't get the number of her mate.  The train had a number of general freight cars at the front (mostly covered hoppers), followed by about a mile of empty coal hoppers.


Trip Three: November 22, 1994

A changing of the seasons...  We had to make yet another trip to Boulder for parental-health issues, but one can't spend all of one's time at the hospital, so my wife went shopping with my sister-in-law and I took our kids sledding.  Since there was very little snow lower down, I kept heading west until we found some.  Conveniently, the best route into the mountains happens to follow... the Moffat Route.  Did I have the camera?  Mais oui!  Never hurts to be prepared!

Believe it or not, the first suitable pile of snow was clear up at Tolland.  The wind was simply howling down the valley, and the temperature (before wind-chill) was in the twenties.  After sledding for a while, my frozen ears detected the presence of a train coming down from the Tunnel, so I found the camera and got ready.

I wasn't used to ditch lights yet, and the train was moving very slowly, so it took forever to identify the power.  Lo and behold, the front end was--

New!  A trio of shiny new SD70Ms. 
 Very New.  I could almost imagine I could smell the fresh paint, were not all of my olfactory receptors already frozen solid...
New: The wide cabs were a real adjustment for me at the time, but the flank of these new units made no mistake that they were still EMD designs.
New: Even a dyed-in-the-wool Rio Grande fan such as myself could not help but be struck by how sharp these units looked.
OLD: Our swing help today is this pair of Rio Grande tunnel motors (5376 and 5373).  This photo appears in my book.

Well, we were frozen anyway, so we decided to give chase.  The train had stopped to reset brakes, so it wasn't hard to stay up with it.  We passed it at Rollins, and headed on down to Pinecliffe to await it at tunnel 29.  We beat it there with time to spare, even with hiking down to the track from the pullout above the tunnel.

New: This bright, sunny shot of the lead unit could be July, but don't be deceived.  See the photo below, fifteen seconds later!
New and Old: The train was a PSCX set, coal bound for Public Service of Colorado's Cherokee power plant in Denver.  These cars had been around for a while, and are still in service as of this writing.  There was a dramatic difference between sunlight and shadow, in terms of temperature!
Old: The swing help passing through tunnel 29.  Back then, these were manned, unlike today where nearly everything is remote-controlled.


Trip Four: November 25, 1994

Just three days later, we went up to East Portal with my cousin's family to sled again (hee hee).  Going through Tolland, we discovered we were chasing a westbound manifest train powered by a motley collection of OLD Southern Pacific engines.  Try as I might, I was unable to beat it to the crossing above the underpass (I got behind some SLOW guy), so we didn't get to the tunnel before the power had entered.  No photos, dern the luck.

However, not all the luck was bad.  After we sledded for a bit, the fans on the tunnel powered up and shut down, indicating an approaching train.

New!  Here we have a fairly-new set of Amtrak P40s (also known as AMD-103s) leading the California Zephyr.  It was the first time I'd personally seen them in Colorado.  It was quite a while before the F40PHs would be completely displaced, so it was a treat to see these units.
New entering Old: The train hustles into the seventy-year-old tunnel.  I should have photographed the cars as well...

We weren't done for the day yet, though.  Before long, the fans did their ritual again, and a westbound freight came in view.  I crossed the tracks to get the light behind me this time.

Old wearing New: On the point is a freshly-shopped and repainted SD40T-2, in the new paint scheme.  I see no dirt anywhere on this unit.  They even plated over the hole on the nose where the red beacon once sat.
Old: Also helping to move this set of BN coal hoppers was an SD45 in Kodachrome, and assorted other SP units of varying degrees of repair or disrepair (six total).


Trip Five: December 29, 1994, on the Ski Train

We took the Ski Train up to Winter Park twice in '94.  Our December trip netted several of the photos on my Ski Train site, plus my first video of the ride (thanks to borrowing my brother's bazooka-sized camcorder).  We had taken the shuttle down to Frazer and were tobogganing with the kids on the first available hill, which happened to be the railroad fill on the south edge of town.  It was a quiet day for railroad action, save for one movement shown here.

Old and Very Old: This looks like the West Helper, doing some local switching.  Two Espee SD45T-2s (the clean one is No. 9401, nee SSW 9401) are pushing an ancient Rio Grande watertank flat (maintenance-of-way car) up the grade toward West Portal.  The power had just come down the hill and picked up the car in Fraser.   My wife took the photo.
 Somewhat New: The Ski Train was powered by a pair of Espee GP60s on this trip, common for that season.  They were only about 4 years old at the time.  The Ski Train cars, though built clear back in '68 and therefore qualifying as old, had only been in this paint and in this service since '88, so they're somewhat new.


Ninety-four was a fun year for railfanning on the Moffat.  The variety was endless and interesting, unlike today when the main question is whether the AC4400 will be in SP or UP paint.   :->   I miss all those old standard-cab diesels, and even the old Espee paint schemes, not to mention the Grande!

Well, someday the AC4400s and SD9043MACs will be Old too.  What will the New look like then?  Let's stick around and find out.

[Go to the SP in the Rockies Page]
[Go to Rail Encounters]
[Back to the Front Door]


2003, 2005, James R. Griffin.  All rights reserved.