Saddle Up with the West Rail Line

On Saturday, we got a sneak peek of RTD Denver’s newest project, the West Rail Line, which will officially open April 26, 2013.  This train lover’s event was sponsored in part by the Colorado Railroad Museum in Golden, CO:  Tickets for the preview were sold by the museum…luckily, we were able to buy two tickets before the two trains sold out.

The morning of the ride, Charles Albi (Colorado Railroad Museum) and Kevin Flynn (RTD Public Information Manager, P3 Project) provided a presentation regarding Denver’s train history and the history of the city and people encompassing the 12.1 miles of rail.  “Much of this route was started in 1891 as the Denver, Lakewood & Golden Railroad and continued as the Denver and Intermountain until 1953.”  This section of rail line had originally closed to passengers in 1950, however RTD retained the right of way of the rail line, which is the same route used by the W Line today.  (In attendance at the morning’s presentation was someone who had actually been a passenger of the last train in 1950.)  Thanks to our 20x zoom, we are able to share this great presentation with you:

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Seated on the train, we were lucky enough to sit next to a local train expert who is a volunteer with the Platte Valley Trolley.  He was able to answer our train questions and provided us with lots of extra facts.  The majority of the line runs parallel to Denver’s 6th Avenue, which connects Golden and Denver.  Our W Line preview started and ended at the Jefferson County Government Center in Golden with the turn around point at the Decatur/Federal Station.  Unfortunately, there was construction in progress, so were not able to make it all the way to the final stop – Union Station.

Hey Denverites! In celebration of the opening of the West Rail Line, enjoy FREE rides on the W Line on Friday, April 26. Continue the party on Saturday, April 27 with FREE rides on ALL  light rail lines all day!  Save the Earth, ditch your car for the day and explore your city.

Colorado Railroad Museum

We have talked about visiting the Colorado Railroad Museum numerous times and have always wanted to go.  It was featured on Channel 9 News a few months ago which sparked our curiosity even more.  They were offering a free admission day this weekend, so we took advantage.  It is located in Golden near the Coors Brewery about 15 minutes from us.  We entered through the gift shop, a replica 1880’s train depot and decided on the optional “Galloping Goose” ride.  After we walked through the small museum that gave a brief history of the railroad in Colorado, we made our way to the station to take our ride.  As we waited, we saw the largest train they had on display, engine 5629.  It weighs a mere 600,000 lbs and the driving wheels are a massive 6 feet in diameter.  It is one thing seeing these in the movies and in pictures, but to see it in person was unbelievable.  It was truly a steel behemoth.  The goose arrived and we boarded the strange-looking car/train.  These were originally mail carriers used to take mail to the small hard to get to towns in the mountains and later, some took passengers.  There were only 7 of these built in the 1930’s and the museum has three of them.  We took the short loop (3x) around the 15 acre property as we got a history lesson from the conductor.  After riding the goose, we understood where it got its name from: it sways back and forth on the tracks quite a bit.

We got off the train and walked around to see the static displays.  You can go inside some of the cars and engines, but most are locked.  For a fee you can pay for a guided tour and go in all of them, which we might do another time.  They have the oldest engine in Colorado, which was made in 1880 and is about a quarter of the size of engine 5629.  It is amazing to see the old cars made of wood with bench seats inside and then see one of the Rio Grande cars from the 50’s and 60’s, what a difference.  Looking into one of the late 1800’s cars with wood seats wrapped with a red velvet material, I can just imagine women with their bustle gowns and men in top hats riding to the next town.  It is like looking into a time capsule.  One of the most interesting facts we learned was the difference in narrow gauge and standard gauge rails and cars.  I had always heard the terms, but never really thought too much into it.  Standard gauge tracks measure 4 ft 8 in across and narrow gauge measures between 2 and 3 ft 6 in across.  The most extensive and well known of the narrow gauge was the 3 ft wide rails used in the Rocky Mountains.  The narrower tracks and smaller trains were developed to make it through the tight canyons and switchbacks throughout this mountainous region.  One display showed the narrow gauge tracks inside the standard tracks with train cars on either side to show the difference.

Another interesting display was the two examples they had for removing snow from the tracks.  One went in front of the engine and it literally pushed all the snow away from the tracks.  This menacing looking device was called a wedge plow and it was slanted and attached to an open car, which was then weighed down in the rear to compensate for the weight of the snow.  It is about 20 ft long and about 15 feet high and is adjustable.  Another snow removal device was actually part of the engine, called a rotary plow.  It is a huge circular saw that cut up the snow and threw it to either side.  (Click on the links below to see them in action).

Wedge Plow:   

Rotary Plow:   

The Colorado Railroad museum has a lot to offer and I would like to go back in the spring to see everything and especially go inside more of the cars.  It is an evolving museum, as they have a restoration building on site.  They even have two large toy train sets outside.  One is true steam and the other is electric.  The museum is a great representation of our advances in travel and commerce, which helped shape this area in and around the Rocky Mountains. If you haven’t been, you have to check it out.

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