Baldwin Branch Facts
What became the D&RG/D&RGW's Baldwin Branch was really the western end of the Denver, South Park & Pacific's? line from Gunnison to the mines near Baldwin. The route was constructed in 1880-1882 by the DSP&P?, breaching the Continental Divide with the ~1600 foot Alpine Tunnel?, at an elevation of 11,600 feet above sea level. The DSP&P? eventually gave way to the Denver, Leadville & Gulf? in 1889. By 1899, the line had become part of the Colorado & Southern's? narrow gauge system. The tunnel route was plagued with problems throughout its existance, usually remaining closed for months at a time through the winter due to snow and ice build-up.
In the summer of 1910, the tunnel still plugged with 8-9 feet of ice build-up in late June. The C&S? was ready to throw in the towel on the west end of the system - everything from Nathrop to Gunnison to Baldwin, including the Tunnel. Even if there wasn't competition, having a route that was only passible six months out of the year was no way to run a railroad. However, with the D&RG's Marshall Pass route providing most of the same connectivity, there was little point in even trying. A deal was struck on 15-Feb-1911 to trade the D&RG's operation of the Gunnison-Quartz and Gunnison-Baldwin segments of the C&S?, and for the D&RG's Blue River Branch to be operated by the C&S? in return. Both were orphan branches of the original owners, and it made more sense for their new operators. Note that the route ownership was not actually traded - each road kept its original lines, they were just operated under contract.
After the scrapping of the Pitkin Branch, the downfall of the vast majority of the DSP&P/D&LG/C&S narrow gauge system wasn't far behind. By 1935, the C&S had successfully petitioned the ICC to abandon the vast majority of the system. Not wanting to deal with the isolated Baldwin Branch, which had already been operated by the D&RG/D&RGW for two decades, they offered to sell it to D&RGW in 1937. The D&RGW accepted, and took full control of line on 13-Aug-1937.
With the route nearly in as poor of repair as the Pitkin Branch, the C&S sweetened the sale deal with used 70 pound rail off of some of the scrapped lines. The D&RG completed the upgrading by 1939. Aside from the Castleton-Baldwin mine segment that was abandoned in 1946, the Baldwin Branch proved to be a strong source of traffic until the dismantling of the entire D&RGW narrow gauge mainline (both the Marshall Pass and Black Canyon routes) in 1955.
Baldwin Branch Timetable