Southern Pacific Era: 1988-1996

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The Southern Pacific Railroad (and subsidiary Cotton Belt [SSW]) was purchased in 1988 by Rio Grande Industries, holding company for the D&RGW. Initially, there was some effort by D&RGW management to maintain the Rio Grande as a separate entity, but in 1992 the systems were integrated operationally under the Southern Pacific Lines brand. This included a new merger-inspired paint scheme, applied to all new locomotives and many existing units as they were serviced.

Other effect of the SPL operating philosophy included: shifting transcon traffic to the Tennessee Pass route away from the Moffat (reducing manifest traffic here); dispersion of Rio Grande locomotives to elsewhere on the SPL; closing of Denver as a significant interchange with BN (and corresponding reduction of freight traffic); longer, slower freights instead of short, fast ones.

In May 1995, SP purchased 278 AC4400’s from GE, and these quickly took over the majority of coal trains. They dominated such traffic for the final year of the SP, continuing into the first years of UP ownership as well.

Continuing from Rio Grande days, Amtrak ran its daily-each-way California Zephyr across the route, with an early morning Denver departure westbound and a late evening eastbound Denver arrival. Around 1993, Amtrak took delivery of the first of its Genesis units, the AMD-103 or P-40 units in modified Phase 3 stripes.  At the same time the first Superliner II cars arrived, in Phase IV stripes. A mix of earlier equipment and the new locomotives and cars was common throughout the SPL era.

The Ski Train continued its weekend operations during this time. Up through 1992 it could run with any modern Rio Grande locomotives, although GP40-2’s were the most common. Starting with the 1992-3 season, SP power was the norm, and by 1994-5 power was nearly always SP/SSW GP60’s.

For the modeler of the Moffat line, the short eight-year SPL era has three major subdivisions.  October 1988 to February 1992 is dominated by Rio Grande power.  March 1992 through May 1995 features the increasing presence of SPL locomotives, both grungy legacy power and those in the so-called Speed Lettering merger scheme.  Lastly, June 1995 through September 1996 shows a shift to the new AC-traction locomotives and the introduction of distributed power (i.e. unmanned helper sets). Passenger trains, both Amtrak and Ski Train, add color to the session.

(For reference, here is the track plan.)

ssw9264-wp Cotton Belt SD45T-2 No. 9264 leads a coal train with an SD40R and another 45T-2 through the Hideaway Park area below West Portal.

The lead unit was a kitbash I did before the commercial models were available.

wp-swings Manned swing helpers were the rule in 1994. Here a helper set with both kinds of tunnel motors (SD45T-2/SD40T-2) represented is shoving in the middle of a train of steel hoppers up towards West Portal.

The SD45T-2 is an off-the-shelf Athearn SD45T-2 which I repainted Espee and weathered heavily, and a blue-box Athearn D&RGW SD40T-2 which received an extensive detailing (including milling the fuel tank to correct size).

Here is a train-chase of the Ski Train, from early 1995. Today’s power is a pair of SP GP60’s, fairly standard at the time.
skitrain_1994_rocky With a pair of SP GP60s on the point, the westbound Ski Train exits the west end of Rocky siding. The climb into the mountains has begun.
skitrain_1994_little10 Now approaching the Big 10 curves, the train is gaining elevation and will shortly be on the track visible above. You can
see the hopper-car windbreak in the foreground.
skitrain_1994_big10_1 Here the train climbs past our position, as the flanges squeal on the tight curve…
skitrain_1994_clay Here the train hits the east switch of Clay siding, headed geographically north for the moment.
skitrain_1994_t2 … and now the head end is nearly to Tunnel 2.
skitrain_1994_t29 Several miles later, the train is rounding the 12-degree turn below Tunnel 29 (at right).
skitrain_1994_t30 After passing Pinecliffe, the train transits the last short tunnel east of the Divide, Tunnel 30.  (On my layout, things are rather compressed in this area!)
skitrain_1994_wp1 About 30 minutes later, the train emerges from West Portal, adjacent to the Winter Park ski area.
lpd pyramid peak wp Now the train is unloading passengers.  Most of the activity is taking place on the opposite side of the train.  The coach is PYRAMID PEAK, one of the coach/snack cars and the 7th car on the train.  In the foreground is a MOW flat, spotted on Crane spur.
skitrain-wpsiding After unloading, the train proceeds down the valley towards Tabernash, there to turn and park for the day. Here the private cars are leaving the ski area.
skitrain-hp-wb The train is passing through the town of Hideaway Park (now Winter Park) on its way down to Tabernash.
skitrain_1994_loading Later that afternoon, the train has returned to the ski area and is preparing to load.  The nose of the lead unit always pulled up right to the tunnel portal, to gain maximum loading room (and also to see into, and be seen from, the tunnel!).  A casual railfan is inspecting the sharp-looking SP GP60’s.  See here for a similar scene.
Later that same day, Amtrak’s California Zephyr heads up the hill.  Here are a few photos of that action.
lpd amtk no. 5 t2 The train is about to enter tunnel 2 in this shot.  Amtrak used P40’s intermittently on this route during the mid-1990’s
lpd amtk no. 5 lounge t29 The scenery is a lot better in this area, and the overhead glass in the lounge comes into play as the canyon walls tower above the train.
amtk5-t29w Tunnel 29 is the shortest tunnel on the line.  Here the power pops out of the tunnel, just before crossing South Boulder creek.
lpd amtk no. 5 west portal A half-hour later, our colleague on the western slope catches the train as it exits Moffat Tunnel.  Obviously there’s no way we could beat the train to this location by car!
lpd amtk no. 5 vasquez A few minutes later, the train snakes through the Hideaway Park area.

More Southern Pacific-era Photos


rodvt-plain The RODVT (Roper yard to Denver- Trailers) is rolling out of  tunnel 2 through Plain, with a block of insulated boxcars on the  head end.
drgw3099-ny Rio Grande GP40-2 No. 3099 and an SP GP38-2 are spotted near the service area at North Yard. A common scene in 1992.
amtk5-t27 Up in South Boulder canyon, the Amtrak California Zephyr threads its way along the shelf exiting tunnel 27.  View is from the north side of the canyon.
dvoaf-big10 In 1992, this DVOAF (Denver-Oakland Forwarder) freight is climbing up towards Big 10 with a mish-mash of power: GP40M, GP38-2, Dash 840B, and SD40T-2.  There are no DRGW units in the consist today, and they would become increasingly rare.
dvoaf-t27 About an hour later, the same DVOAF is tiptoeing along the canyon wall as it exits tunnel 27.

(In September of that year, an eastbound freight hit a rockslide just below this location, derailing much of the train and killing
two crew members.)

dvoaf-winterpark After waiting for the tunnel to vent, the DVOAF crossed under the Divide.  Here it’s seen rolling through Winter Park, where the snow is deep and the skiers are happy.
st-clay In 1991, The Ski Train makes its way west past Clay, the first siding above the Big 10 curves.
sp7132-hp Here, SP7132 West is passing through the cut at Hideaway Park.
ssw9264-wp Cotton Belt SD45T-2 No. 9264 leads a westbound CSUX empty into the siding at Winter Park.  The snow is pretty deep up here.
lpd bn6784 BN was an interchange partner in Denver, although by the mid-1990s that relationship had become somewhat hostile. Nevertheless the BN and SPL operated in close proximity to one another. In this view, a BN switching move is skirting past Union Station.
drgw3015e-wp GP30 No. 3015 is on the point of an eastbound freight, waiting on the main at Winter Park.  The year is 1994, and GP30’s are nearing the end of their useful lives.  Note the SSW beer car directly behind the locomotives.
st-t29 The Ski Train is in South Boulder canyon in 1992, entering tunnel 29 in this view from atop the adjacent ridge.
dvrot_winterpark The closest thing to a hotshot train on the SP, the DVROT (Denver-Roper Trailers) train coasts down pasts Winter Park siding after exiting the Moffat.  The three GP60s are in dedicated service between Denver and Salt Lake City.
rodvm-big10 January 1993, and a RODVM train is coming down the Big 10 area in the late afternoon led by GP40M No. 7132.

(The track has since been ballasted)

drgw5348e-westportal Let’s follow an eastbound PSCX train for a bit.  This coal is loaded at the Energy loadout near Steamboat Springs, and is
destined for the Cherokee powerplant in northeast Denver.  Here it’s about to enter the Moffat Tunnel, powered by four 6-axle locomotives.
drgw5348e-sbc 90 minutes later (or 30 seconds on my layout) it’s traversing tunnel 29 below Pinecliffe, in South Boulder Canyon.
DRGW 5348 Clay Another hour and we find it entering the Big 10 curves, passing the east switch of Clay siding  Note the signal shack andsignal.  I’ve scratch-built several of these sheds, a common type of structure in this area. (backdrop has since been completed)
lpd amtk no. 6 1994 clay One evening in October 1994, eastbound train No. 6 drifts through Clay into the Big 10 curves.
sp277_big10 In late 1995, a pair of new AC4400’s head up a PSCX coal train at Little 10 curve.
sp263-wp It’s February 1996, and a pair of fairly-new AC4400s lead coal train EYCKC.  It’s about to enter the Moffat Tunnel.  A pair of remote helpers is on the rear.  (See the Equipment page for
more information on these units.)
sp263wb-wp On a different day in 1996, the same locomotive (AC4400 # 263) leads a westbound coal empty out of the tunnel.


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