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Denver and Salt Lake Railway

The Denver, Northwestern and Pacific Railway was a Salt Lake City, Utah. Although the line was never completed as a separate route to Salt Lake City, the line 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. After the pass was bypassed by the Moffat Tunnel, the line became known as the Moffat Tunnel Route.

DNW&P was placed in receivership on May 2, 1912, and on April 30, 1913, was reformed as the Denver and Salt Lake Railroad, and finally the Denver and Salt Lake Railway (reporting mark D&SL) in 1926. Most of the line is in use today as part of the Union Pacific's Central Corridor.


  • History 1
    • David H. Moffat 1.1
    • Moffat Tunnel 1.2
    • Dotsero Cutoff 1.3
  • Legacy 2
  • References 3
  • External links 4


David H. Moffat

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. 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. 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. 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. 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). 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.

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 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. 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.

Moffat Tunnel

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. 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).

Dotsero Cutoff

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, he would later be looked at by many 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. 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.


  • Boner, Harold (1962), The Giant's Ladder. Kalmbach Publishing Co. Milwaukee WI.
  • Includes numerous c. 1905 photos.

External links

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