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Tunnel District
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Pinecliffe
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The Tunnel District

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Just west of Denver, the Moffat Route leaves the Great Plains and begins traveling up the massive Front Range escarpment of the Rocky Mountains. Along the reach from Denver to Rollinsville their are 28 tunnels cut through the rocks and the train gains over 3,000 feet of elevation in 40 miles. The tracks wind their way up South Boulder Creek through extremely rugged and remote canyons where populated towns are almost non-existent. 

moffat tunnel 4, 5, 6 view pc.jpg (104754 bytes)
The Front Range Tunnels 4, 5, and 6

The Front Range erupts abruptly west of Denver, rising from the plains to 14,000 feet in just a few miles. This reach consists of monstrous slabs of sandstone rock that lay tilted like a string of knocked over dominoes. 

Near Denver the railroad winds up a sandy foothill to the base of the main escarpment at Coal Creek. Here a wooden trestle originally crossed the Coal Creek valley. This structure was replaced with a steel trestle and then again with a plate girder bridge. A water tank at this location was removed in 1956 after the end of the steam era.

As the railroad travels north, along the escarpment, it keeps gaining elevation for the assault on the high mountains. Due to the jagged nature of the terrain the tracks must turn in and out of the major canyons and this required drilling tunnels through the outcrops to maintain a smooth alignment. The tunnels begin just west of the Coal Creek crossing. Tunnels 1 through 8 hang on the massive sandstone faces of the escarpment. The old timers called the section "The Flatirons" for their resemblance to familiar kitchen apparatuses.

The train passes Plainview after the first tunnel. Here there is a long siding and a wonderful view to the great plains. 

Following the second tunnel the tracks crossed Bull Gulch with another wooden trestle. This one was replaced by earthen fill in 1941.

At tunnel 8 the tracks turn west into South Boulder Creek canyon. The old location of tunnel 9 became unstable during construction and a temporary "shoo-fly" was constructed around the tunnel. This quick fix remained until 1938 when a little larger curve was cut in.

The train rides high on the valley walls past Crags Spur. At one time the famous Crags Resort stood here and could accommodate 200 guests. Life was short for the resort and it burned completely just a few years after its completion in the 1900's. The view from Crags is spectacular and the railroad later named the stop "Scenic."

Between tunnels 12 and 18 the geology changes as the tracks rise up Boulder Creek. The hillsides are more rounded and the vegetation changes from Firs and Spruce to Ponderosa Pine.

A short break in the tunnels accommodates Crescent Siding following tunnel 18. This was the old location of a spur line to Walker Ranch. The siding once contained a depot and section house for the Denver, Northwestern and Pacific railroad. Past Crescent the tunnels begin again from 19 to 29 at regular intervals along the valley walls. 

At tunnel 29 the grade in the track changes from steep to mild as the climb into the high country begins. Just past tunnel 29 the railroad finally crosses South Boulder Creek for the first time. Originally a wooden pile trestle stood here, and it was later replaced with a plate girder bridge.

Pinecliffe lies in the river valley past tunnel 29. A long siding evolved here over the years. The siding capacity was increased several times until it reached a couple of miles in length and included several curves. At one time a Depot was located near the railroad crossing with Highway 72.

Past Pinecliffe the tunnels stop until Rollinsville, when the last tunnel 30 puts in an appearance. This area contained the Hanging Rock that L. C. McClure made famous in a photograph. 

 

References: 14, 15, 16, 17

Tunnels East of 
Moffat Tunnel

No. Mile
Post
Length
1 23.43 356
2 25.44 516
3 25.79 369
4 26.00 174
5 26.11 585
6 26.35 536
7 26.63 208
8 26.81 753
10 27.42 1572
11 27.61 238
12 27.93 429
13 28.14 312
14 28.28 434
15 28.46 427
16 28.72 698
17 29.5 1430
18 29.97 238
19 32.11 1055
20 32.45 460
21 32.71 667
22 32.98 180
23 33.20 1553
24 34.10 812
25 34.61 639
26 35.22 295
27 35.72 643
29 36.38 78
30 40.47 257

 

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