Pitkin Branch Facts
What became the D&RG/D&RGW's Pitkin Branch was really the western end of the Denver, South Park & Pacific's? line to Gunnison. 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, 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.
The ex-C&S between Gunnison and Quarts, just a bit down from the Alpine Tunnel?, became the D&RG/D&RGW Pitkin Branch. In early 1912, the D&RG built a short connector from the ex-C&S to its own Marshall Pass main at Parlin and ceased operating the Gunnison-Parlin segment. Little traffic existed, and the D&RGW contemplated abandoning the branch in 1926. However, due to intervention by the Public Utilities Commission, service was continued to a mine at Quartz for another six years.
With little maintenance having been done, however, the line was completely worn out by 1932, and the D&RGW/C&S filed for abandonment. After several delays and hearings, the ICC gave its approval on 8-May-1934, and the C&S began tearing up the line. The scrapping was complete by 31-July-1934.
The other half of the traded C&S lines became the D&RG/D&RGW's Baldwin Branch, running north from Gunnison to the coal mines around Baldwin.
Note: The D&RG/D&RGW both call Parlin as Parlin. The DSP&P/DL&G/C&S refer to it as Parlins.
Pitkin Branch Timetable