A Chicago Train Connecting Railroad - 1930's - 1940's
Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad


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Rio Grande
Rio Grande
June 5, 1947

The Denver and Rio Grande Railroad (D&RGW) generally referred to as the Rio Grande, became the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad in 1920, and is today a fallen flag (a railroad that has been absorbed into a larger system — Southern Pacific Railroad, now Union Pacific — as the result of successive mergers). The D&RGW served mainly as a transcontinental bridge line between Denver, Colorado, and Salt Lake City, Utah, and a major origin of coal and mineral traffic, with a motto of Through the Rockies, not around them. The Rio Grande was the epitome of mountain railroading, operating the highest mainline rail line in the United States, the over 10,240 ft (3,121 m) Tennessee Pass in Colorado, and the famed routes through the Moffat Tunnel and the Royal Gorge. At its height, around 1890, the D&RG had the largest operating narrow gauge railroad network in North America. Known for its independence, the D&RGW operated the last private long haul passenger train in the United States, the Rio Grande Zephyr(wik).The D&RGW's sense of its unique geographical challenge found expression in what is arguably the world's most famous passenger train, the California Zephyr, which was Rio Grande
Rio Grande
June 5, 1947
jointly operated with the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad (CB&Q) from Chicago to Denver and the Western Pacific Railroad from Salt Lake City to Oakland, California (with ferry and bus connections to San Francisco). Unable to compete with the Union Pacific's faster, less mountainous route and 39-hour schedules, the California Zephyr offered a more leisurely journey – a "rail cruise" – with ample vistas of the Rockies. Although the California Zephyr ran at full capacity and turned a modest profit from its 1949 inception through the late 1950s, by the mid-1960s the train was profitable only during the late spring, summer, and fall. In 1970, Western Pacific, claiming multi-million dollar losses, dropped out. However, the D&RGW refused to join the national Amtrak system, and continued to operate its share of the Zephyr equipment as the Rio Grande Zephyr between Denver and Salt Lake City until 1983.(wik)
Short History of the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad
1870 - The Denver and Rio Grande Railroad (D&RG) was founded by General William Jackson Palmer as a narrow gauge railway system with the intention of connecting Denver with Mexico City. Narrow gauge was chosen because construction costs — and equally important, construction time — were lower than standard gauge. The route was to pass over Raton Pass in what is now northern New Mexico.
The Royal Gorge Route
1874 - D&RG builds from Pueblo to Caρon City.
1877-1880 - Feverish war with Santa Fe over rights to build south over Raton Pass won by Santa Fe. D&RG concentrated on lines west through Royal Gorge.
1880 - Line completed to Salida and Leadville (the mining districts).
1881 - D&RG over Marshall Pass at 10,845 feet and on to Gunnison.
1882 - Montrose reached.
1885 - Tracks completed (narrow gage) to Grand Junction, where they joined the Rio Grande Western Railroad to Salt Lake City.
1887 - Pueblo to Leadville added third (standard gage) rail, and branches completed to Crested Butte, Lake City, Ouray and Somerset.
San Luis Valley Route
1877-1878 - Narrow gage lines west from Walsenburg over 9,500 foot Old La Veta Pass to Alamosa and later south to Santa Fe, New Mexico.
1881 - From Antonio a line over Cumbres Pass (10,015 feet) to Durango.
1882 - North to Silverton, and south to Farmington, New Mexico.
Tennessee Pass
1887 - D&RG completes line west from Leadville over 10,240 foot Tennessee Pass and through Glenwood Canyon to Glenwood Springs and Aspen. Line built to beat the Colorado Midland in the race to these mining areas.
1890 - Standard gage completed from Leadville to Glenwood Springs. Narrow Gage line over Marshall Pass downgraded to a secondary line.
Denver and Rio Grande Western
The original Denver and Rio Grande Western Railway built a narrow gauge line from Ogden, Utah via Soldier Summit, Utah to Grand Junction, Colorado.
1889 - The railroad became the Rio Grande Western Railway in 1889 as part of a finance plan to upgrade the line from narrow gauge to standard gauge, and built several branch lines in Utah to reach lucrative coal fields.
1901 - The Denver and Rio Grande merged with the Rio Grande Western, and consolidating in 1908.
1908 - Equity to finance Western Pacific Railroad construction weakened the Rio Grande.
1917 - USGA takes over D&RGW.
1918 - WP goes into bankruptcy and D&RGW does likewise.
1920 - D&RGW emerges from bankruptcy as the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad.
The Moffat Road
1931 ,- The D&RGW acquired the Denver and Salt Lake Western Railroad (a company in name only), a subsidiary of the Denver and Salt Lake Railroad (D&SL) which had acquired the rights to build a 40 mile (64 km) connection between the two railroads. After years of negotiation, the D&RGW gained trackage rights on the D&SL from Denver to the new cutoff.
1932 - The D&RGW began construction of the Dotsero Cutoff west of Glenwood Springs to near Bond on the Colorado River, at a location called Orestod. This provides a connection to the Denver & Salt Lake Railway which has a shorter route to Denver through the Moffett Tunnel.
1934 - Construction completed giving Denver a direct transcontinental line west via D&SL and D&RGW.
1935 - D&RGW slipped into bankruptcy again.
1947 - D&RGW merged with the D&SL gaining control of the "Moffat Road" through the Moffat Tunnel and a branch line from Bond to Craig, Colorado.
1949 - "California Zephyr, lightweight streamlined "dome" train begins operation from Chicago to Oakland via CB&Q, D&RGW and Western Pacific. It is slower than the "City of San Francisco" on the CNW/UP/SP but is much better as a sightseeing train.
1970 - Western Pacific drops California Zephyr and D&RGW uses its portion for the "Rio Grande Zephyr" from Denver to Salt Lake City.
1983 - "Rio Grange Zephyr discontinued.
1983 - Amtrak begins "California Zephyr" using D&RGW trackage from Denver through Moffat Tunnel to Salt Lake City.
1988 - Rio Grande Industries, the controlling company of the D&RGW purchased the Southern Pacific, and maintained the Southern Pacific name.
1990's - D&RGW looses much of long haul traffic and concentrates on coal hauling.
1996 - UP absorbs SP (D&RGW) to compete with Burlington Northern-Santa Fe (BNSF). UP now comprised of SP, and D&RGW as well as the MoPac, M-K-T, Cotton Belt, C&NW and Western Pacific.

Rio Grande Map 1947
Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad Timetable Map, June 5, 1947


Our Sources
Private Collection of Richard R. Parks(rp)
Wikipedia the free Encyclopedia [web](wik)
Official Guide- April 1940
Pacific Railroad Preservation Association(pr)
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Web Page Written and Maintained by Richard Parks
Copyright © Richard Parks, April 27, 2009, revised May 13, 2011