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Photo 1
A loaded coal train descends into Denver at Arvada
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Photo 2
A pair of SP ACs leading emerging from the dark
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Photo 3
Another coal train, more SPs
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Photo 4
The above pair of SPs leading empties into the tunnel
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Photo 5
Umm.. that's a train, you might want to move...
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Photo 6
Interesting side artwork
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  Trip Report: Denver to the Moffat Tunnel - Chapter 1
  Denver Up To East Portal
(Early Afternoon, Oct. 21, 2000)
  From: Denver to the Moffat Tunnel
Dates: October 21, 2000 Author: Nathan Holmes

Originally Michelle and I had planned to venture over to Helper, UT, for the weekend, but due to a last-minute downturn in the weather we just decided to stay in the Springs for the weekend. However, a good friend of mine from college and his wife were up in Fort Collins where he had interviewed for a job on Friday. I've been trying to get Michael out here for some time to introduce him to the wonders of railway operations in Colorado, and Saturday proved to be an excellent opportunity. He had some residual interview issues to resolve Saturday morning, but about 10am we both headed out for Arvada.

The drive up was really quite uneventful - the weather was beautiful, but I never did actually see any traffic on the Joint Line (though I did hear a detector go off and some other traffic associated with a northbound - I replaced my scanner last week and the range / sensitivity on the new one continues to impress me). Somewhere around noon we actually met up and all piled into my Blazer for the trip up to the Tunnel itself. Let's just say I had some concerns about the ability of a rental car to survive the final ten miles or so from Rollinsville to East Portal. Several times when I'd been over the road in the summer I'd remembered obnoxiously large rocks and potholes, not to mention just the overall poor condition that generally held me to well under the speed limit just to keep from being rattled to death.

The first stop was only shortly after we met up with the Moffat Line in Arvada. Our first view looking west revealed an approaching UP coal load (Photo #1) - power included UP7260, SP139 on the front, UP8258 and UP6682 as swing helpers, and CNW8814 & UP6485 bringing up the rear. Interesting point: flatlanders like Michael are easily spotted when they begin moving towards the vehicle after the lead power has passed - I had to insert a helpful reminder that while two units may get a 10,000-ton train across Iowa, they don't quite lift over the mountains...

I continued driving up towards Colorado 72, pointing out things like the Leyden siding (and the waiting unit coal in it), the Rocky Flats facility, the Big Tens, all the typical highlights of a first trip up to the tunnel. After all, I'm trying to encourage him to take a job out here so I have someone to go railfanning with again, so I figured I'd better show off all the nifty features the Moffat had to offer. On the way up, we also made stops at Pinecliff and Crescent, but were out of luck on both counts - no trains in either, and not so much as a peep from the scanner the whole time, with the exception of some incomprehensible UP PBX traffic.

Finally, about a mile out of Rollinsville, we heard signs of an eastbound leaving the hole at Tolland and proceeding down the hill. After finally finding a reasonable and legal place to pull off the road about a mile further, we settled in and waited for the train to come to us. For those of you who haven't driven from Rollinsville to the portal, finding somewhere to pull off and photograph any traffic is quite a challenge - the road is only wide enough for two cars (and therefore parking on the side of the road is quite against the law), has fairly steep ditches, and pretty much any promising turnoff is private property and very prominently marked as such. Fortunately, there is one pulloff about two miles from Rollinsville that came up just in time. Within a few minutes, SP 288 & 118 came along with another loaded coal train - however, with my bad luck, the clouds had just taken away direct sun and for some odd reason my camera was having problems in the reduced lighting. So the best I could do was a set of roster shots of all the power, plus as main of the coal gons as I could get for RailARC.

As usual for any afternoon (we finally arrived about 1pm), the actual area around the portal was grey and dreary, when just a few miles away to the east clear blue sky was present. This never seemed to change, the clouds just seem to gather around the Continental Divide. For anyone visiting the region, I'd suggest you hit the east portal of the tunnel in the very early morning before the clouds have had time to rob you of any light. Then work back towards Denver. However, since I'm so good at taking my own advice, we arrived at 1 and stayed most of the afternoon (until about 4:40pm).

Upon first arriving at the portal, a quick check showed the door in the down position, and a bit of air movement could be noted from the giant air ducts on either side of the portal - not the full-blown fans, just a small movement of air. Sure enough, less than five minutes after arriving, the horn went off, alerting us to the rising door. Again, a cautious look down the line revealed three little points of light deep in the mountain. Within a couple minutes, a set of SP AC4400s burst out into the open (followed by a UP AC) bringing forth yet another loaded coal train. While I realize the Moffat is little more than a large coal conveyor anymore (with the exception of BNSF manifests and M&Z DVRO/RODV trains), a little variety would have been nice. Still, I'm happy with the outcome of the shot (Photo #2), and happy to see that traffic is still moving over the Moffat at all, fearing that the alternative to the monotony of coal drags is the silence of Tennessee Pass.

The Tunnel seems to need about 15 minutes of exhausting before another train can pass through, or at least that was the consistent "on time" of the blowers this particular day. And each time they shut down, within 5-10 minutes another train would appear. This was one of the heavier days I've ever seen along the Moffat Line during my last five months in Colorado (and in previous visits). Hate to say it, but each and every other train spotted was just more coal gons, either loads coming down or empties working up. Quite a few westbounds passed through, most with surprising amounts of SP AC units on the point. (Photo #3 & 4). Some very unobservant hikers and their dog coming off the trail to the south of the portal almost became another grade crossing statistic (how exactly do you miss a 200-ton locomotive bearing down on you with horns blaring?) - it never fails to amaze me that more incidents don't happen here. (Photo #5) Light westbound empties are moving along pretty well by this point, and one of these guys actually stood on the crossing and looked at it for a second. The photo doesn't quite accurately portray the closeness of the miss, but trust me a bit - it wasn't as much of a miss as it looks like. After watching several more pass uneventfully, including one with a rear helper in a very interesting interpretation of Union Pacific lettering (Photo #6), we decided the failing light would force the three of us to call it a day and head back down towards Denver.

It turns out I wasn't the only one who found UP 6593's new paint interesting - Marlin Cox was on the west side of the Tunnel and caught it over there as well - his photos are posted over at his Rio Grande Zephyr site.

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Oh yes, one other thing I should probably mention - all the images here are Copyright 2000 Nathan D. Holmes (maverick@drgw.net)
Note this doesn't mean you can't use them - In fact, I encourage people to use and enjoy them.
I'm placing them under the same license as RailARC images.
All images were taken with an Olympus C-3000 camera, a beautiful piece of machinery.