Tunnel Motor Quartet: 2001

(Note: click on the thumbnails to see the full-sized images!)

For a while during the spring of 2001, Union Pacific was using several Rio Grande SD40T-2 locomotives on its Denver-to-Pueblo manifest trains (symbols MDVPU amd MPUDV*) . The MDVPU usually had a late afternoon departure from Denver. On April 26, 2001, we took a small detour onto US 285 at Castle Rock, hoping to encounter the train.

There had been a large track crew working at the north end of Colorado Springs, shutting down the line. We hadn’t seen a single train north of Pueblo. So it came as a real surprise when I suddenly spotted the train on the southbound track, just north of Louviers. It had three Rio Grande SD40T-2’s and one Southern Pacific edition for power. We had to chase it! I made a U-turn at first opportunity and headed back south, looking for a place to cross the tracks and gain a more favorable angle for the light. It being rush hour, we had trouble gaining much ground on the train.


Sometimes traffic and lighting conditions make it difficult to get a good shot… but it was still fun to pace a train with four tunnel motors on it.  Notice the SP unit back in fourth place, like it’s crashing a party or something!

By the time we got back to Sedalia, we had enough of a lead to cross over the track and set up. Not the best site in the world, but sometimes you have to make do with what’s available.

MDVPU-Sedalia-2001-04-26-2 A moment later, the train approached from the north. Venerable Rio Grande tunnel motor No. 5361 was on the point, leading the four tunnel motors elephant-style.  Of course the light was at a bad angle for my location… but Photoshop helped me pull details out of the shadows.

DRGW5361-Sedalia-2001-04-26 No. 5361 is from Rio Grande’s second batch of SD40T-2’s, running the rails since 1975. This unit was seen often around in Colorado at this time, but she would be retired before year’s end with a major component failure.)

DRGW5376-Sedalia-2001-04-26 Second in line was No. 5376. This unit was just recently back from apparent retirement, and it was good to see it again. It was from the class of 1977.  I had seen it a couple of times in the past, most recently in 1996.

DRGW5385-Sedalia-2001-04-26 Third was No. 5385. I had photographed this unit the previous November at Rocky, and it was nice to see it again too. It was delivered in the same group as the 5376.  It’s not as scarred in the face as 5361– she still has her class lights, and somebody painted the gold stripes across the plate on the low nose.

SP8532-Sedalia-2001-04 Last in line was Southern Pacific No. 8532, an increasingly-rare sight in 2001– even more so since it was still in its original paint. It was delivered in December 1978, making it the youngest of the four. It only looks oldest!  Look high on the end and you can see where the railroad removed the distinctive SP light package.

MDVPU-Sedalia-2001-04-26-7 Here, the power has crossed the road in downtown Sedalia at about 40 mph, on its way towards Castle Rock, Palmer Divide, Colorado Springs, and ultimately Pueblo.

I think it interesting to see that, of the three Rio Grande units, one sees three different types of ditch light installations.  A lesson to the modeler: get a photo of your subject before you begin work!

Unfortunately, schedules didn’t permit us to chase the train further, but it was great to see some vintage tunnel motors still hauling revenue on the main line.


* MDVPU is a Union Pacific train symbol: M (Manifest Freight), DV(Denver) to PU (Pueblo). MPUDV is the opposite train.  These usually run after dark.

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