"The Royal Gorge" Transcontinental Train Journey - 1950's American Passenger Trains
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1987 was the first time the powers that be attempted to shut down Tennessee Pass. Having successfully routed nearly all traffic via the Moffat (which pushed the Moffat Tunnel to near capacity), only two trains per day were left going over Tennessee. The experiment would be short-lived, however.
Philip Anschutz and Rio Grande Industries? purchased Southern Pacific in 1988. Wanting to capitalize on the new, shorter, combined D&RGW-SP Central Corridor route from California's Bay Area to points east, the additional traffic would be more than the Moffat could handle. In addition, some of the tunnels on the Front Range were known to have clearance issues with double-stacked containers. So, a furious effort was made to not only reactivate Tennessee, but bring it in line with modern mainline standards - heavier rail, new ties and ballast, and working on a few problem tunnels to improve clearance. By the end of 1988, the line was officially back from the threshold of death. In only about eight years, the line went from two trains per day between Minturn and the summit to as many as thirty (including light helper sets). Despite traffic having been built up to this level, the beginning of a very quick end was less than a year away.
On 11-Sep-1996, Southern Pacific and Union Pacific merged in order to survive the recently created super-competitor, BNSF. One of the touted cost savings of the merger would be the elimination of Tennessee Pass, since UP planned to route all traffic east out of Denver on an upgraded Kansas Pacific line. The UP (ex-MoPac) line east from Pueblo would then also be abandoned as well, eliminating UP's own duplication between the ex-KP and the ex-MP lines east out of Colorado.
Only just shy of a year after the UP-SP merger, on 23-Aug-1997, the last revenue train went over the pass. The train was OMIGV-19, a westbound unit taconite train with two units on the front and three in the middle. It departed Pueblo at 1125h and pulled into Minturn at 2005h. The Malta Local from Pueblo-Malta continued to run until 9-Mar-1999, and beyond that only a few work trains have plied the east side of the pass.
UP continues to periodically run hi-rail trucks across the pass on the line.