Georgetown Loop Railroad

In June 1877, the Colorado Central Railroad reached Georgetown.  It took until January 1884 for the track to be completed the additional 7 miles to Silver Plume.

The first section of track posed the greatest challenge to the builders.  Just west of Georgetown, the valley narrows and rises 638 feet in less than two miles.  The grade was 6%, too steep for most locomotives, and the canyon walls were too steep for a series of switchbacks.  Union Pacific, who now owned the Colorado Central Railroad, sent their chief engineer Jacob Blickensderfer to solve the problem.  He developed a system of curves and bridges reducing the grade to a 3% average, with some steeper sections.  The line includes three hairpin turns, four bridges, and a 30-degree horseshoe curve at the 75-foot-high "Big Fill" near Silver Plume.  The key piece of the plan was the high bridge at Devil's Gate, the valley's narrowest spot, at which the track looped over itself in a spiral to gain 75 feet in elevation.

In 1881, the railroad was reorganized as the Georgetown, Breckenridge and Leadville Railroad, a Union Pacific subsidiary.  Grading to Silver Plume started in early 1882.

In 1899, the Colorado and Southern purchased the line from Union Pacific, who had fallen on hard times.

In 1906, the Argentine Central connected Silver Plume with mines to the south, and the Colorado Mines and Arial Tramway Company opened a tram to the top of Leavenworth Mountain.   It was popular for mining companies to offer tours, add in the scenery of the area, the high bridge at Devil's Gate and a tramway ride, it made for a spectacular day trip, resulting in a surge of tourism to the area.

Tourism continued through World War One, but at disappointing levels.  In 1920, the Argentine Central and the tramway both closed.  One train a day continued to service Silver Plume through 1938, at which time the service west of Idaho Springs ended.  The tracks were pulled, the high bridge dismantled.

The Georgetown Loop Historic Park was established in 1959.  Of the railroad, only the roadbed, a few ties, and partial bridge abutments remained.  A program of land acquisitions and leases began, with the goal of reconstructing the entire loop from Georgetown to Silver Plume. 

Construction of the line began in 1973 with track and ties donated by Union Pacific.  Labor and technical assistance was provided by the U.S. Navy Construction Battalion (SeaBees).  The first section opened in 1975.  In 1977, track from Silver Plume  to Devil's Gate was complete.

May 1982 saw ground breaking for reconstruction of the High Bridge, with a million dollar grant from the Boettcher Foundation.  The high bridge was dedicated on August 1, 1984 by Governor Lamm.

The run is about 7 miles round trip, takes 75 minutes. You can catch the train at either Georgetown or Silver Plume. Engine pulls the train backwards from Silver Plume and does a run around at Georgetown to pull the train forwards back up the hill.

2004 - a new contractor is running the Loop. Due to some legal issues, none of the equipment that had been used on the Loop previously could remain on the Loop, even though it was partially owned by the State. The new contractor had to bring their own equipment, and could use State equipment that hadn't been on the Loop before. Or so most of the stories went. Seems to have some basis in fact as the old equipment is now at the Colorado Railroad Museum and the Colorado Historical Society is a major player in both the museum and the Georgetown Loop.

Anyway, it didn't appear the Loop was going to operate at all until Railstar stepped up and assumed operations in October 2004. These pictures were taken right after the change and is all Railstar equipment.

2007 - Didn't ride the train this year. Coming home from vacation we stopped to see if #9 was running -- still down for major maintenance. Brought it in last year, ran on these tracks for Colorado & Southern 1884 - 1936. Wasn't in as good of shape as they thought, made some runs last year and went down. Did see #12, which has been the mainstay for the last 3 years. Lots of trouble with it too, line was shut down several days this season. Hopefully they get their problems worked out and can run a full regular schedule soon. Bought some new weather tight cars this fall, maybe they are thinking of expanding into winter operations.

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