Creede Branch Facts
The first part of what would eventually become the Creede Branch was constructed in 1881 as a way to seek out sources of traffic for the newly-constructed La Veta Pass line. The San Luis Valley is a rich agricultural area, and as such the line was initially only built west across the flat section of the valley, reaching South Fork in 1881. By 1883 this had been extended westward as far as Wagon Wheel Gap with the intentions of reaching the Creede minin district. However, the railroad found itself financially over-extended due to the rapid expansion during the early 1880s, and decided to postpone further construction. By 1889, operations had been cut back to Del Norte, on account of little to no traffic and heavy snows on the west end of the line.
David Moffat? realized that Creede could be the next mining boom town. However, while he was president of the D&RG during the same era, he was unable to convince the Board of Directors to push the rails west to Creede. Nicholas Creede found the rich vein of ore in the canyon north of Creede in 1890 that would really start the Creede mining boom. His claim became the Holy Moses Mine, which was shortly thereafter purchased by Moffat?. Frustrated that the Grande would never finish the branch and his mining investments would be stuck without reliable rail transportation, Moffat resigned his position with the D&RG and built the ten miles from Wagon Wheel Gap to Creede using his own fortune. Operations on the new line were contracted out to the D&RG, and once construction costs were recouped (in only four short months), the extension was subsequently sold to the D&RG in 1892.
The irony was that the D&RG had passed on a somewhat obvious extension to a source of traffic for some time, and when the line was completed, there were only two years left before the Silver Panic of 1893?. The crash in the price of silver would bring most silver mining along the Grande to an abrupt halt, and it would only start to resume again nearly a decade later.
Originally constructed as a narrow gauge line, part of the route - the section from Alamosa to Del Norte - was converted to dual gauge in 1901 following the completion of the new, standard gauge La Veta Pass line in 1899. Since the line west of Alamosa was relatively easy to convert due to its largely flat, straight nature - unlike the narrow gauge San Juan Extension that went south from Alamosa and passed through far more formidable territory - the rest of the branch all the way to North Creede was converted to pure standard gauge in 1902.
Rio Grande trains continued hauling ore out of the Creede area until the last mine closed in 1985. However, no revenue train ever entered Creede after 1969. Past that point, all ore was loaded on the wye at Wasson, about two miles from downtown Creede and almost four miles from the original end of track.
This corner of the D&RGW system was also home to the last standard gauge steam run on the Rio Grande. On 26-Dec-1956, D&RGW 1136 ran from Alamosa to Creede and back, and when it dropped its fires that night, the steam era ended on the Grande.
The line passed to Southern Pacific in 1988, and then to Union Pacific in 1996. The South Fork-Creede segment was put up for abandonment by UP in January 1999. Three proposals came in to purchase the line - from Denver & Rio Grande Historical Foundation, the South Fork-Creede Railway Corridor Preservation Group Inc., and the Rio Grande & San Juan Railroad Co. In the end, the D&RGHF managed to purchase the line for $625,000.
Operations pretty much continued the same as they ever had between Alamosa and South Fork? until 7-Feb-2002, when service was cut back futher. Until that point, the Creede Local would regularly (at the end, every Monday-Wednesday-Friday) work west out of Alamosa as far as the sawmill at South Fork?. Usually the cargo was loads of woodchips coming out of the mill, with most of the lumber going by truck. The mill closed in late 2000, supposedly just for the winter, but somewhere mid-winter the decision was made to close for good. With no further traffic, Union Pacific curtailed the "Creede Local" to the Alamosa-Del Norte segment, with only an occasional run to the end of the line.
On 29-Jun-2003, the UP segment of the Creede Branch (Alamosa - South Fork?), along with the rest of the San Luis Valley Lines, passed to the San Luis & Rio Grande Railroad, a shortline owned by RailAmerica. They continued the same basic operations as UP, never using the segment from Alamosa - South Fork except to deliver equipment to the D&RGHF storage area. During December of 2005, the San Luis & Rio Grande was sold to Iowa Pacific Holdings, LLC. and Permian Basin Railways, but operations remain largely unchanged.
Creede Branch Timetable