Modern Era – UP and BNSF

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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 track plan.)

heritageunit Union 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)
lpd ac remotes 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 right.
amtkno5-clay 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…
up6872wb-1 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 SD9043MAC.)
up6872wb-2 Here the MDVRO passes the west end of Plain siding and is headed into tunnel 2.(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…)
up6872wb-3 After climbing to the divide and transiting the Moffat Tunnel, the MDVRO meets an eastbound coal train waiting in Winter Park siding.
up-eb-coal-big10 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).

lpd bnsf 5112 hp 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)
lpd bnsf 5112 eb wp 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.
lpd bnsf pinecliffe An hour or so later, the sun is down as the train squeals through the 12-degree curve at Pinecliffe.
lpd bnsf clay 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.

up5880w-wportal In this scene, a westbound coal empty emerges from the tunnel and rumbles past the Winter Park ski resort. An C44AC-CTE and an older AC4400 (C44AC) are on the head end.
up6280_westportal 70 cars back (or 16, in my model “reality”), a repainted ex-SP AC4400 is running as the mid-train DPU helper.
up5880w-wpark Here, the same westbound coal empty rolls past an eastbound MRODV that’s tucked into Winter Park siding. The winged AC4400 is an Athearn unit that I renumbered as a C44AC-CTE (delivered January 2003, so it’s pretty new here). The differences in doors and panels are pretty minor between the CTE and the earlier AC4400s, so I didn’t bother changing them…
up_wpatnight It’s a 24-hours-per-day operation on a railroad. Here a westbound coal empty is exiting the west portal of the Moffat.The resort building lights are real, not photoshopped.

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