Mountain West Rail
Paul Ziemba's Tunnel District
The Rio Grande mainline through the Tunnel District, from the mouth of Coal Creek Canyon all the way to the Moffat Tunnel, is one of my favorite places to railfan.  There are surprises around every corner, and something new to experience every time I visit there.  The photographic possibilities seem endless.  The scenery is stunning, the wildlife is amazing; from deer and elk, mountain lions and bears, bald and golden eagles and countless hawks and falcons, all call this area their home.

The rugged terrain always leaves me in awe of how the men cut that railroad into the mountains, many time boring through them to make the 27 tunnels in the District.  Looking at photos in archives from decades ago, the only thing that has changed is the ownership and machines that run these rails.  I hope you enjoy this small look into the Moffat Tunnel District.


A very, very cold morning in January 2001 found the Ski Train running again with DRGW help, GP40-2 #3105.  Ski Train 242 seems to have problems quite a bit and I guess old Phil has enough clout to always get a DRGW engine assigned to his train.

Here the Ski Train has exited tunnel 29 (out of site to the left) and is rounding the curve into Pinecliff over bridge 36.45.

I have to give credit where it is due, and there is a photo in R.C. Farewell's book, Secret Places of the Rio Grande, Volume 1, The Tunnel District, that inspired me to follow in his footsteps for this photograph.


A pair of Southern Pacific GE C44AC's, with SP #247 in the lead, head east out of Tunnel 29 with a full load of coal behind.  Pinecliff is on the other side of the mountain behind the tunnel.

Patience paid off this afternoon in July 1999. Waiting for a Z-train that never showed up, I was rewarded instead with a mixed freight with two Santa Fe Warbonnets as the power. ATSF #670 is leading the train eastbound across the fill at Bull Gulch Creek about to enter Tunnel 2 and roll on into Plainview. The fill used to be a wooden trestle bridge when the Moffat was constructed.

The weather along the Moffat can change at anytime, and very fast.  On a Spring day in April 1999, Amtrak #5 heads west into Crescent Siding coming out of the snow and fog.

No, I am not standing on the tracks.  I am actually about 150 yards west near the switch for the house track and safely off to the side. The illusion is created with the curve in the siding and the use of a 500mm lens.


The summer of 2000 had the Summer Ski Train being pulled with the two DRGW GP60's. In this photo, the Ski Train is exiting Tunnel 2 and crossing Bull Gulch Creek heading west towards Tunnel 3 behind me.  A slow order this July 2000 day along the Moffat had the train traveling at a speed of only 10 mph.

The rugged landscape of the Moffat Line is shown here at tunnel 3. The tunnel was made by taking the line directly through one of the flatirons common to this area. Shown here are a pair of Union Pacific GE C44AC's with UP #6895 leading the way on a beautiful day in October 1999, heading east out of tunnel 3 with a rare consist of all Union Pacific coal hoppers.

As I was ready to leave the area and hike back to my car after photographing the Z-train, I heard a westbound train coming towards me. The train is shown here exiting a small flatiron cut between Tunnel 2 and Tunnel 3, with UP #6750 leading the way.  This was in October 1999.

The storm I was trying to get away from is the reason this photo was created.  Sunlight is harsh here and would be behind the engines.  The storm diffused the light and I was able to set up about 40 yards west of the cut and use a long lens to isolate the action.


This was taken near the mouth of Coal Creek Canyon in March of 2001. After photographing the morning westbound Ski Train, I was able to set up in a new location and catch this train coming down from Plainview Siding.  Here UP #7126 is shown in the lead coming through the cut just west of the Coal Creek Canyon Bridge.

All images this page are the Copyrighted work of Paul Ziemba.
Like what you see?  E-mail Paul Z and let him know.
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