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Thursday, June 14, 2012

12-06-14b PHOTOS: Moffat Letdown

During my 2011 trip on Amtrak's Empire Builder, crossing the Continental Divide in Montana on the BNSF Northern Transcontinental route was an epic experience. The line was double tracked and there were snow sheds, a smattering of tunnels and probably the best part was at the point of the summit you got this wonderful sign that let you know that it was downhill all the way to the Mississippi River. That's the way a high point should be, double track, helper turnbacks, epic engineering that lays the mountains low. These sorts of summits are seen in the east coast at places like Galitizin, Sand Patch and Allegheny and even on the West where the Great Northern Crosses and Cascade range or on this very trip where the Southern Pacific crossed the Donner Pass.

With all this one would think that crossing the Rocky Mountains via the 9,000+ foot high Moffat Tunnel route would trigger the same sort of epic feelings. There's a 6 mile tunnel just like in the Cascades, lots of tunnels and even a twisty turning horseshoe curve. Unfortunately the reality was a huge letdown. It wasn't just that the line was single track and that the summit was inside the tunnel, although that played a huge part of it. The main letdown for me was that there was no sense of accomplishment as you went to and from the summit. Trees and steep canyons blocked any view of the mountains and the line was severely curvy with around 30 tunnels between The summit and Denver. There was no sense that the railroad was overpowering the geography, but more like it was trying to sneak through it.

On top of this the light was failing and the steep canyon walls and backlighting was affecting the quality of the photos I was able to take, although I was able to hold things together pretty well. We also passed a good number of trains sitting on various sidings between the tunnel and Denver, including that coal train that had gone through the tunnel ahead of us.

While clearly not as fun as the last several sets of photos they are still quite interesting and you can find them all here. Honestly I found covering this section of track a bit of a slog, mostly due to all of the tunnels which I am obligated to photograph entering, exiting and then wide angle exiting.

We begin by leaving Winter Park where we had had an extended stop to allow a coal train to clear the tunnel and then for the tunnel to be vented out. Not much in the way of infrastructure, but the long platform allows for both sleepers and coaches to conduct station work at the same time.

Side window view of my train as it sloooooowly climbs the twisty route up to the tunnel and the summit of the DRG&W Moffat Tunnel line. Prior to the tunnel's construction Rio Grande traffic used the now out of service Tennessee Pass route which went via Pueblo and with a summit of over 10,000 feet was the highest crossing of the Rockies. That route was taken out of service after the UP/SP merger, although it has not been abandoned in case the tunnel suffers a catastrophic problem. 

We get another helping of small target searchlights as we pass the west end of the Winter Park siding, just west of the tunnel portal. 

The sharp curve at the west portal features another repeater signal for the east end of the Winter Park siding and a high car detector, although at this point such an alarm would be of limited value. 

The Moffat Tunnel was built in 1928 and named for Doctor Who writer and show runner Steven Moffat. The tunnel is 6.2 miles long and much like its contemporary Cascade Tunnel the Moffat uses a vent plant on the eastern end to clear the tunnel of exhaust gases. Unlike the cascade tunnel the Moffat was not electrified and worked with a ventilation scheme from day one complete with a sliding door that seals the east end and blows gases out the west. The Moffat tunnel is also faster than the Cascade with a top speed of 40 mph instead of 25.

In this video you can see Amtrak Train 6 entering and then exiting the tunnel. You can also hear the announcement asking passengers not to move between cars as it will let in the trapped diesel exhaust. However they also ask everyone to remain seated for some reason like going through a tunnel was somehow akin to reentering the Earth's atmosphere or something.

Here is the money shot of the Moffat Tunnel vent plant and eastern portal as the train exits. Unlike the horizontal sliding Cascade tunnel door, I believe the Moffat Door goes up and down. Like the Cascade it takes about 15-20 minutes to blow out all of the fumes. The tunnel also includes a smaller tunnel that carries water from west of the divide to the east to supply Denver with drinking water.

We caught up with the coal train we had been following at the Tolland siding with SP painted AC4400 #6150 as part of the helper group. 

A UP painted AC4400 #6855 was in the lead. 

Water rushing downhill along the tracks at MP 40. 

Westbound portal of Tunnel 30. That number counts upward from Denver, which is only 40 miles as the railroad flies. You can see the density of tunnels here

Tunnel 23 was one of several unlined tunnels. 

While tunnel 21 had been given a liner and end caps in 1945. 

A long string of AC4400's in a light engine train were waiting in the Crescent siding for us to pass. 

Tunnel 13.

Wide angle view of Tunnel 5. 

The grade of the eastern approach to the tunnel is evident at the Plain siding. 

UP SD70M #4751 siting in the middle of a ballast train in the Clay siding. 

Ballast cleaning apparatus on the east end of the train. 

It's hard to see the switchback and horseshoe curve while you are in it, but you can see what it looks like from above. Along the curve the DRG&W placed 10 old friction bearing hopper cars as a windbreak to prevent trains from being blown over by plains winds as they negotiated the steep grade.

From the east end of the Rocky siding you can see that ballast train we passed earlier far up on the hillside. 

Approaching Denver the Arvada siding features a 50mph high speed turnout. 

A UP AC4460 #7073 waiting for our train to pass east of C&S junction

Eastbound DRG&W signal bridge at Utah Junction. 

Diamonds at Utah Junction.

UP AC4400 #6813 at the north end of the Denver yard. 

Denver is a big BNSF terminal and the rest of our journey to Chicago would be on that road. A number of new ES44AC's were sitting around on coal trains.

ATSF painted GP39-2 #2846 had been involved in a sideswipe incident and now was awaiting repair outside the Denver shoppes.

Along with SD40-2 #1961 which caused the damage to 2846.

Lots of BNSF power, some freshly painted, hanging out by the Denver shoppes. 

Despite seeing only two trains per day, Amtrak has some protect power stationed at Denver in the form of P42DC #177. 

Train 6 making its stop at the Temporary Denver station. The real Denver station is located a few blocks to the south and is seeing a major renovation effort. Whatever happens with that effort, Amtrak trains will still be forced to back in and out of the station.

Engine #47 getting refueled via a truck at Denver Temporary Station. Coors Field is in the background. Due to the thin air one always has to beware of batted balls even this far from the field.

Baggage operations at Denver Temporary Station. 

The Denver Temporary Station consists of more than just a platform...there's an Amshack too! 

The once and future Denver Union Station, currently under construction. 

You heard the station, Travel By Train!  

Next time we trade the excitement of the western mountains for the white bread plains of Iowa. Stay tuned!

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