Pueblo-Trinidad Main Facts
The route from Pueblo to Trinidad is quite possibly one of the most confusing sections of the Rio Grande system to explain. The route was built as part of Palmer's original plan to reach southward from Denver with narrow gauge, across Raton Pass, and to El Paso, TX, where it would connect with a Mexican counterpart. However, after the construction costs of the Denver-Pueblo-Florence route, construction debts were mounting faster than the D&RG's credit could handle. Thus, the route south stalled in Pueblo for about two years while the company built its existing business. There was no particular rush - both competitors, the Kansas Pacific and the ATSF, were both on hold as well due to looming construction debt.
Finally, having regrouped a bit, D&RG grading south of Pueblo towards Trinidad started up again in early 1874. By 1876, the line had reached as far south as it would go for a number of years - El Moro, a D&RG company town and yard about five miles short of Trinidad proper. At the same time, the La Veta Pass route was being constructed westward from the north-south main at Cuchara Jct, in order to tap the mining regions of the San Juan mountains. Once again suffering the debt pains of excessive expansion, little more than surveying took place on the Raton route as all remaining capital went into the lines west.
By 1878, the ATSF had staked out a route over the Raton Pass, beating the D&RG men and effectively shutting down hopes of a D&RG route over Raton. By this point, anyway, all of the attention had turned westward, with the two companies now battling it out for the rights to built through the Royal Gorge (aka Grand Canyon of the Arkansas) to the newly discovered riches of Leadville. The D&RG would end at El Moro (with the exception of the Engleville Branch) for almost a decade. In 1887, the route was finally completed into Trinidad.
Having been constructed as narrow gauge, the route south of Pueblo twisted and wound its way around, rather unsuitable for a mainline standard gauge railroad. The Denver, Texas & Fort Worth? (previously the Union Pacific, Denver & Gulf? and later the Colorado & Southern), rather than constructing a parallel route, worked out a trackage rights agreement with the D&RG, prompting the dual gauging of the line from Pueblo to Trinidad in 1887-1888. (By 1890, the narrow gauge rails were removed, leaving a standard gauge shared line on a narrow gauge alignment.) The poor alignment eventually proved unworkable, and by the early part of the 20th century, the D&RG and C&S decided to jointly build a modern, double track mainline from Pueblo to Walsenburg. The two railroads would join their routes at Southern Junction, just beyond Pueblo, and run via this new "Southern Joint Line" as far as Walsenburg, where both would connect to their own rails again. By 1911, the route was in service, and the original D&RG main was relegated to secondary track.
The first section of the old D&RG line came out in 1917 between Sonora and Graneros, creating two branch lines out of the former main - the Sonora Branch, running from Southern Junction to Sonora, and the Graneros Branch, running up from the new main at Lascar to Graneros. By 1924, traffic at Graneros dried up, and most of the Graneros Branch was also abandoned. The exception was the short stretch from Capers to Larimer, which was joined by a new spur from the new mainline at Mustang and became the Capers Branch.
South of Lascar, the route remained intact for several more years. Lascar to Cuchara Junction remained until 1932, and everything else - Walsenburg to Cuchara Jct to Trinidad - remained until 1936. The Walsenburg-Trinidad segment survived as long as it did on account of the large number of coal mining branches that came off the line (the Rouse Branch, the Reilly Canyon Branch?, the various feeders at Barnes and Chicosa Junctions), as well as the single-track nature of the C&S south of this point. However, in 1936, with coal mining shrinking along the line, the D&RG abandoned their route and settled for trackage rights over the C&S between Walsenburg and Trinidad.
Today, the Rio Grande's descendant, Union Pacific, still operates their half of the Pueblo-Walsenburg Southern Joint Line. Their only interest is to keep it to control interchange with the San Luis & Rio Grande. If the SL&RG was allowed all the way into Walsenburg, their traffic could potentially be interchanged with BNSF. So, they keep the Pueblo-Walsenburg segment, as well as a few miles west of Walsenburg on the La Veta Pass line. BN, and then BNSF, eventually acquired the C&S's interest in the line, and uses it heavily as one half of their directional running system to Texas.
Pueblo-Trinidad Main Timetable (Old Route - 1876-1936)
Pueblo-Trinidad Main Timetable (1911-Present)