Blue River Branch Facts
The Blue River Branch was built very shortly after the D&RG's arrival at Leadville. The initial goal was to reach the Ten Mile Valley, a silver-mining region that had just started to boom on the east side of Fremont Pass.
Construction started in either late summer or early fall of 1880 at Leadville, building off the Leadville Branch spur from the Tennessee Pass line at Malta. The line ran roughly northeast from Leadville, and by December, construction crews had pushed the rails over Fremont Pass and down to Robinson, CO, in the Ten Mile Valley, by the first day of 1881. In late 1881, the line was pushed as far as Wheeler, and then in 1882 crews reached Dillon. While there were plans to continue the railroad north along the Blue River towards Kremmling, only some minimal grading was done and only a mile or two of track, if any, was ever built.
Originally in 1880, the Denver, South Park & Pacific? had secured operating rights over the D&RG's narrow gauge Tennessee Pass line between Buena Vista and Leadville. Largely, this was to appease Jay Gould, who held substantial interests in both railroads and who was also a bit irritated at the Grande's immense debt due to the expansions in 1880 and 1881. Eventually, even these investor pressures were not enough to overshadow the profits to be made by whomever controlled rail traffic to and from Leadville. By August 1883, the D&RG informed the DSP&P? that the joint operating agreement would terminate on 5-Feb-1884. As a result, the DSP&P? immediately began construction of their own route over Fremont Pass, reaching Leadville right on the deadline. In those short six months, however, the D&RG had become less hostile, and upon their arrival, the D&RG and DSP&P? worked out a joint agreement for use of the Leadville track and facilities.
With the Silver Crash of 1893, mining in the Ten Mile Valley all but stopped. Traffic over the Blue River Branch dwindled, with passenger service ceasing in late 1909 and the last sporadic freight service in Nov-1910. Since the Colorado & Southern (the new owner of the DSP&P?) was unable to operate its Gunnison lines due to repeated problems with the Alpine Tunnel?, a trade was proposed. The D&RG would take over the old DSP&P?'s west end - from the Alpine Tunnel? down to Gunnison and then up the Baldwin Branch, and the Colorado & Southern would take the D&RG's Blue River Branch. On 15-Feb-1911, each road took over operations on the other's unwanted segment under an operating contract arrangement.
The D&RG made out extremely well in the deal. The Baldwin Branch was still profitable, producing significant quantities of coal loads. However, they stuck the Colorado & Southern with the Blue River Branch, which had little online traffic, was already paralleled by the old DSP&P? Fremont Pass line, and was in generally poor condition. The C&S was so dismayed at what they'd received that they only accepted two parts for operation - a spur into Robinson and a four mile stretch between Frisco and Dillon.
The Blue River Branch officially became history on 1-Dec-1923, when the ICC was petitioned for permission to abandon the line. Approval came swiftly, and the rails were pulled in 1924.
Blue River Branch Timetable