History of the Colorado Midland Railway
The Colorado Midland Railroad was once meant to be a serious competitor to the Rio Grande in conquering the Great Divide and constructing the first transcontinental standard gauge railroad through Colorado.
However due to several problems it only succeeded in becoming a close second and eventually faltered. What remains are memories of yet another spectacular Colorado MountainMountain Railroad and remains of two long tunnels.
Incorporated in 1883 the railroad was intended to create a standard gauge connection from Colorado Springs to Aspen where silver ore mines where located. Construction started in 1886, when entrepreneur John Hagerman arrived at the scene and brought much needed cash with him.
Hagerman had initially only ventured from New York to Colorado due to his ill health - hoping to find cure from tuberculosis. But soon he got involved in mining business - and as a result found that the main problem was transporting the silver ore from the mining areas to the great plains for further transportation.
So he joined the Colorado Midland and arranged financing with investors back in New York.
Initially a standard gauge line was to be constructed from Leadville to Colorado Springs. Construction first started from the West but when it turned out that the Rio Grande and other shippers asked for very high transportation rates for material to the construction site, Hagerman switched construction to start grading from the East.
The line was constructed from Colorado Springs west over Ute Pass to Leadville. At the same work started at 11528ft high Hagermans Tunnel on Hagermans Pass from the West towards Leadville. Construction was started on both sides of the tunnel simultaneously, but material and tooling had to be dismantled and carried or lifted with cranes over a foot trail over the summit of the pass (12110ft) to the East side of the bore. Hagermans Tunnel was to be 2064 ft in length. Problems occured when silver was found during construction work of the tunnel and several workers laid claim to the "mine". However those "problems" were soon solved. The tracks towards the tunnel featured 16 degree curves and 4 percent grades. On August 30th 1887 the tunnel and pass were opened and trains where able to proceed over the so called "High Line". In the same year the railroad was completed to Glenwood Springs and Aspen - but the was closely beat by the Denver & Rio Grande RR which arrived in Aspen just a week earlier.
Operations over Hagermans Pass proved to be treacherous and accidents were frequent. Especially winter proved to be a very costly time and snow removal ate up most of the revenues.
Soon it became ovious, that the railroad would be in financial difficulties in the near future. In 1888 first surveys were made for a 9400 foot tunnel from Busk to Loch Ivanhoe which would be located 600ft lower than the original tunnel under Hagermans Pass.
In 1890 the Colorado Midland was purchased by the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe RR and work commenced on what was called the Busk - Ivanhoe Tunnel. Since there was no money, the tunnel was built by a seperate company, the Busk Tunnel Railway - and intentions were to lease the tunnel to the CMR which would pay toll charges based on the amount of traffic.
To further ease operations, a 7 mile bypass around Leadville was built with much lower gradient. This bypass line was owned by the Aspen Shortline Railway - there was no more trust in the financially ailing CMR.
In 1893 the first train proceeded through the Busk - Ivanhoe Tunnel, but surprisingly the "High Line" and the Hagermans tunnel where left intact, even though no further traffic proceeded over the tortorous line.
The same year an agreement with the Rio Grande was reached to build a joint railway line westward to Grand Junction for a connection with Salt Lake City and Ogden. There were several reasons for this joint venture, which was named Rio Grande Junction Railway, one of them being the narrowness of the canyon to be passed.
Shortly after the Midlands merger with the Santa Fe both railroads went bancrupt in the process and joint receivership lasted until 1895, when a seperate receiver was appointed for the CMR. In 1897 the railroad was reorganized as the Colorado Midland Railway by bondholders - which surprisingly did NOT take over the lease agreement for the Busk Ivanhoe Tunnel
So the rails over the old "High Line" were repaired and soon trains begann travelling over the steep grade again. The winter of 1899 proved to be especially hard and also demonstrated how disastrous the decision in favor of the highline had been. Hagermans Pass was closed for 78 consecutive days due to blizzards, rotaries were snowed in and at one time a train loaded with cattle was caught up in snow its the entire load freezing to death. Several lives were lost in trying to fight the snow.
Before year end the company accepted defeat and this time purchased the Busk Ivanhoe Tunnel. Again trains proceeded via the lower line through the long tunnel - the tracks were removed from the "High Line". However these doings proved to be financially too much and so the company got a set of new owners in 1900 - the Denver & Rio Grande and the Colorado & Southern each purchasing 50 percent. The Rio Grande had more traffic than it could handle over its own line and was glad to relieve some of it via the tracks of the CMR. However when the Chicago Burlington & Quincy arrived at the scene by taking over the Colorado & Southern the Rio Grande started to divert traffic to its own parent the Denver & Rio Grande Western. In 1914 the Rio Grande purchased the remaining 25 percent of CMR shares in the Rio Grande Junction Railway and thus managed to own a complete and uninterrupted line all the way to the west.
Most of the traffic now remaining on the CMR was from silver mines of the Cripple Creek ragion and coal mines from Glenwood Springs. When the price of silver slumped in the early 1900s, bancrupcy of the CMR was inevitable and in 1912 receivership was once again called for. In 1917 the railroad was sold to private investors who renamed it (again) to Colorado Midland Railroad. In the process both C&S and the D&RG lost all their investments, however the Rio Grande had gotten their through line to Grand Junction out of it.
The new owners made great efforts to revive the railroad but in 1918 the USRA ordered, that for the benefit of the war effort for World War 1, all freight traffic be diverted over the Rio Grande. This terminated the Colorado Midland. In fact the board requested that rails be torn up right away nd shipped to France. However that order was not obeyed. The last train over the CMR ran in 1919, a special for Santa Fe officials who had shown interest in purchasing the line, but this came to nothing and in 1921 the railroad was dismantled.
At that time, the deconstruction of the line was the largest abandonment of a railroad in the U.S.A. ever. But not everything died. The Busk - Ivanhoe Tunnel started a second career as a road tunnel for automobiles travelling HWY 105 and was renamed Carlton Tunnel. Since the bore was too narrow for two lane operation, direction of travel changed every half hour.
In 1945 these operations came to an end, when the tunnel caved in. Again the tunnel did not die completely and was purchased in 1957 by a water company and restored at the cost of 500.000 dollars. All the tunnel now carries is water.
What can be seen today ?
The interesting portions of the Colorado Midland are Ute Pass and Hagermans Pass.
Ute Pass is certainly the more accessible of the two CMR passes. Many of the short tunnels remain and some of the right of way should be accessible. From Colorado Springs follow HWY 24 Westbound and you will travel Ute Pass. Finding the grades will probably involve a little exploring.
Hagermans Pass can be traced on the Gazetteer Atlas of Colorado just west of Leadville. Trace Turquoise View Road Westward from Leadville and you will find a road named FR105. As FR 105 divides into two roads follow the Southern arm until reaching Busk Creek. This is were according to the map the road ends and where the portal of the Busk Ivanhoe Tunnel should be located. A dotted line indicates a foot trail along the old right of way, over the pass. Neither the Pass nor the tunnel is passable by car the tunnels are impassable even on foot. FR105 continues on the other side towards Basalt and eventually Carbondale, wheer it joins HWY 133.
Anywhere near Hagermans Pass is only accessible by 4 WD or on foot. Recommended time would be August, as the pass is at high altitude. I have not been there personally but am told that the portal of Hagerman Tunnel is buried under debris from the snowshedsand rocks from avalanches. Supposedly some railfans excavated the portal but found the tunnel full of water and impassable. Entry into any of those long tunnels is not recommended.
Look out for internet links to the people who know more on the links section of this site. Also check out the book page on my site for recommended literature.
Maybe I will travel to Hagermans Pass myself this year - in which case I will be reporting what I found right here on this page.
The Colorado Midland has now been gone for more than 77 years - but it is not forgotten.
Last Update: Mar 1st 2008
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