Denver and Salt Lake Railway

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Denver and Salt Lake Railway
Reporting markD&SL
Dates of operation1902–1947
Track gauge4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge

The Denver, Northwestern and Pacific Railway was a U.S. railroad company in Colorado. The company had numerous reorganizations throughout its financially troubled history, and later had the official names of the Denver and Salt Lake Railroad, and finally the Denver and Salt Lake Railway (reporting mark D&SL). By the time the company was acquired by the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad it was colloquially known as the Moffat Tunnel Route. The portions still in use today are known as the Moffat Tunnel Subdivision of Union Pacific Railroad's Central Corridor.

Prior to the line's construction there was no direct line west of Denver, with rail traffic having to detour south to Pueblo or north to Cheyenne. The Denver business community wanted an "Air Line" west of the city, and the Denver, Northwestern and Pacific Railway was going to be that "Air Line", originating in Denver, and was planned to terminate in Salt Lake City, Utah. Although the line was never completed as a separate route to Salt Lake City, the finished portion was eventually connected with the D&RGW's main near Dotsero and used to shorten their route between Salt Lake City and Denver. The line initially featured an arduous grade over Rollins Pass, until the pass was bypassed by the Moffat Tunnel.


The Denver, Northwestern and Pacific Railway was first incorporated on July 18, 1902, by David H. Moffat, Walter S. Cheesman, William Gray Evans, Charles J. Hughes, Jr., George E. Ross-Lewin, S.M. Perry and Frank P. Gibson[citation needed].

The incorporation was after Denver was bypassed by the Union Pacific Railroad line, which passed through Cheyenne, Wyoming, and by the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad (D&RGW), which was routed through Pueblo, Colorado, and ran west through Royal Gorge.

David H. Moffat[edit]

David H. Moffat and his business associates established the Denver, Northwestern and Pacific Railway. It originated in Denver, and was planned to terminate in Salt Lake City, Utah. Construction began on December 18, 1902[citation needed]. The DN&P started north up the Front Range of the Rockies towards Boulder. This ascent to the point where the line turned west, is a great example of exceptional mountain railroad surveying[citation needed]. Chief Engineer H.A. Sumner, needing to enter South Boulder Canyon as high as possible, did not want more than a 2% grade. To do this, he laid out an efficient route to gain the necessary altitude that features the now famous Big Ten Curve[citation needed]. The climb to the Continental Divide required 33 tunnels that were several hundred feet long. The tracks did not reach the western end of the Tolland area until 1903. Once completed, the 33 tunnels between Denver and Tolland are closer together than any other tunnels on any other line in the US[citation needed]. Rollins Pass was next over the divide at Corona, at an elevation 11,680 feet (3,560 m), and then the line went down the western face of the divide. Originally, Moffat had planned to build a tunnel through the worst part of the pass, but his plans failed. Instead, the DNW&P tracks climbed Rollins Pass with a series of switch back loops requiring steep grades and experiencing severe snow conditions. The line over the pass was 23 miles (37 km) long, with a 4% grade at many locations, and was the highest mainline railroad ever constructed in North America (the Argentine Central terminated at a higher elevation)[citation needed]. A small rail stop called Corona was established at the top of the pass, with a restaurant and lodging, which allowed workers to keep the rail line free of snow in winter. Trains were often stranded for several days during heavy winter snows. Removing snow from the original line made it unprofitable to operate.

The line's Arrow rail stop, which was 11 miles from Corona. It was also used for a sightseeing destination.

The line was complete to Arrow by the winter of 1904. In the spring of 1905, the tracks were completed to Fraser. From there, the tracks went through Tabernash, Granby, Hot Sulphur Springs, Byers Canyon and then Parshall, at the mouth of Williams Fork canyon. The town of Kremmling, Colorado, was reached in July 1906. The tracks then went west through the Gore Canyon past Radium, connecting at State Bridge to north–south tracks. These tracks reached Steamboat Springs in the winter of 1909[citation needed].

Moffat died on March 18, 1911, in New York City at the age of 73. The DN&P had cost him $75,000 a mile, and Rollins Pass had cost him the rest of his fortune, a total of $14 million. He was in New York City trying to raise more money for the railroad, and was stopped by what would later be learned was the doing of E. H. Harriman and George Jay Gould I.

DNW&P was placed in receivership on May 2, 1912, and on April 30, 1913, was reformed as the Denver and Salt Lake Railroad, though it went bankrupt before reaching Salt Lake City[citation needed]. By 1913 the tracks through Steamboat Springs had reached Craig in Moffat County, Colorado, towards the Colorado-Utah border. At its final terminus, it was less than half the distance toward its goal of Salt Lake City, Utah[citation needed].

Moffat Tunnel[edit]

Denver and Salt Lake train entering the eastern portal of the Moffat Tunnel.

Moffat Tunnel cuts through the Continental Divide in north-central Colorado. It finally provided Denver a western link through the Divide as both Cheyenne to the north and Pueblo (Colo.) to the south enjoyed rail access to the West. This 6.2-mile (10.0 km) long bore is 9,239 feet (2,816 m) above sea level at its apex. Fifty miles west of Denver is the East Portal in the Front Range. Moffat Tunnel follows the right-of-way laid out by Moffat back in 1902[citation needed]. The railroad tunnel was 'holed' through on July 7, 1927, and formally turned over completed to the D&SL on February 26, 1928. Railroad connections through the tunnel shortened the distance between Denver and the Pacific coast by 176 miles (283 km)[citation needed].

Dotsero Cutoff[edit]

The Denver & Salt Lake Railroad was reorganized as the Denver & Salt Lake Railway in 1926. In 1931, the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad (D&RGW) acquired the Denver & Salt Lake Western Railroad (a company in name only) subsidiary of the Denver & Salt Lake Railroad (D&SL) which had acquired the rights to build a 40-mile (64-km) connection between the two railroads. After years of negotiation the D&RGW gained trackage rights on the D&SL from Denver to the new cutoff. In 1932, the D&RGW began construction of the Dotsero Cutoff east of Glenwood Springs to near Bond on the Colorado River, at a location called Orestod (Dotsero spelled backward). Despite the common misconception that Dotsero is a shortening of "Dot Zero," the station name exists from the construction of the standard gauge line to Glenwood Springs in the 1890s. Construction completed in 1934 giving Denver a directed transcontinental link to the west. The D&RGW slipped again into bankruptcy in 1935. Emerging in 1947 it merged with the D&SL on March 3, 1947, gaining control of the Moffat line through the Moffat Tunnel and a branch line from Bond to Craig, Colorado.


Although Moffat was looked at the time as a vain dreamer[citation needed], he would later be looked at by many[citation needed] as ahead of his time. His legacy would leave Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad and later Union Pacific with a railroad that would outlast most other rail lines in Colorado[citation needed]. Other than the Rollins Pass part, all of the railroad is in use today as part of the Central Corridor, and the Denver to Phippsburg part is called Moffat Tunnel Subdivision[citation needed].


  • Athearn, Robert G. (1977). The Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad: Rebel of the Rockies. University of Nebraska Press.
  • Boner, Harold (1962). The Giant's Ladder. Milwaukee, WI: Kalmbach Publishing Co.
  • Griswold, P.R. (1995). David Moffat's Denver, Northwestern and Pacific: The Moffat Road. Denver, CO: Rocky Mountain Railroad Club. ISBN 0-9620707-2-6.
  • Lewis, Lawrence (November 1905). "A Feat In Railroad Building: A New Road Over The Rocky Mountains From Denver To Salt Lake". The World's Work: A History of Our Time. XI: 6859–6870. Retrieved 2009-07-10 – via Google Books. Includes numerous c. 1905 photos.

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