Winter Park
C o l o r a d o

The Denver, Northwestern, and Pacific Railroad
by Michelle Peterson

Previous to the turn of the century, the Union Pacific trains ran through Wyoming, and the Denver and Rio Grande line was routed through Pueblo and ran west through the Royal Gorge. The city of Denver was being by-passed, which caused great concern in the Denver business community. David H. Moffat was the wealthiest man in Colorado at the turn of the century, as a result of hard work and wise investments, and he realized that a shorter route directly west of Denver would reduce freight rates and open up the rich ranching, farming, and coalmining areas of northwestern Colorado. Mr. Moffat incorporated the Denver, Northwestern, and Pacific Railroad in 1902, and in April 1903 construction of the railroad west of Denver began.

Sunset on Rollins Pass
By the middle of 1905, tracks were laid through 33 tunnels and over numerous bridges, up South Boulder Canyon and over Rollins Pass (dubbed Corona Pass by the railroad workers), to Hot Sulphur Springs. Originally, Moffat had planned to build a tunnel through the most precipitous part of the pass, but their original efforts failed. Instead, the tracks that were consequently built over the top of Rollins pass had to be enclosed by a 2 mile long snow shed, which eleviated only some of the drift problems, and delays were common. The rotary snow plow was developed to keep the Moffat Road open. 

Mr. Moffat's dream of reaching Salt Lake was not realized before his death in 1911. The railroad went bankrupt in 1912 and was reorganized as the Denver and Salt Lake. In 1913 the railroad reached Craig, Colorado.

The Moffat Tunnel Commission was formed and work on the Moffat Tunnel began in 1923. In February 1927 the tunnels from the east side and the west met almost perfectly. The tunnel was 6.2 miles long and replaced 33 miles of track over the top of the divide. The trip from East Portal to West Portal was reduced from 5 hours in good weather to 12 minutes in any weather. Today, 12 to 16 trains a day go through the tunnel.

©1998 Michelle Peterson
Managing Editor
Photograph ©1997 by Michelle Peterson


Return to Grand County Visitors Center

Return to