UPDATE: Rio Grande Pacific to Lease Tennessee Pass Route

An eastbound train is seen at Belden, Colo., on Tennessee Pass in August 1996. Photo by Jeff Simley.

UPDATE: Rio Grande Pacific to Lease Tennessee Pass Route

Updated: Thursday, Dec. 31, 3:50 p.m. EST

By Justin Franz

EAGLE COUNTY, Colo. — Rio Grande Pacific has announced that it has entered into a commercial agreement with Union Pacific to lease the iconic Tennessee Pass route through Colorado. The former Denver & Rio Grande Western route over the Continental Divide in central Colorado has sat dormant for nearly a quarter-century and has long been considered one of the most iconic pieces of mountain railroad in the American West. 

According to a press release, Rio Grande Pacific subsidiary, Colorado Midland & Pacific Railway (CMP), will lease a majority of the line and file for common-carrier authority with the U.S. Surface Transportation Board to operate it. Officials said that CMP will “assess the interest of the communities served by the Tennessee Pass line” for both freight and passenger service. 

CMP will lease the line from Milepost 171.90, at Parkdale, Colo., to Milepost 335.00, near Sage.

Rio Grande Pacific owns a number of short lines, including Nebraska Central; New Orleans & Gulf Coast; Idaho Northern & Pacific; and Wichita, Tillman & Jackson. It is also been hired to operate the proposed Uinta Basin Railway in Utah.

“We look forward to engaging in the transportation planning work already underway to determine how the Tennesee Pass Line might play a role,” said CMP President Robert Bach. “It’s exciting to bring this additional operation to the table.”

The Tennesee Pass route has been dormant since 1997, not long after Union Pacific purchased the Southern Pacific. A short section of the east end of the railroad, through the scenic Royal Gorge, is operated by a short line, Rock & Rail, and a tourist carrier, Royal Gorge Route Railroad. 

Editor’s Note: This story was updated to reflect that Rio Grande Pacific is leasing the line not purchasing it.

This article was posted on: December 31, 2020