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TS18: Grades and Glory

Written by: Gary Dolzall.

We take a close look at the upcoming Raton Pass route for Train Simulator

Legendary Raton Pass is coming soon to Train Simulator as announced in the Dovetail Live article “Remarkable Raton” - and now we take a further look at the history and heritage of this famed Santa Fe line and the upcoming route created by Milepost Simulations.

Read the previous article

By Santa Fe tradition, Raton Pass was the western end of the First District of AT&SF’s New Mexico Division, which extended 104.6 miles from La Junta, Colorado to Raton, New Mexico. The pass itself, from Trinidad to Raton, encompassed 23 miles of unforgiving railroading that on its eastern slope climbed nearly 2,000 feet in the roughly 15 miles between Trinidad at its summit at the Colorado-New Mexico border. Constructed through the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and the along the path of Raton Creek in 1878-79, the railroad featured imposing grades that often exceeded 3 per cent and reached 3.7 percent on the final leg of the climb west from Gallinas to Wootton and the 2,041-foot-long Raton Pass Tunnel. From its summit of 7,588 feet (highest point on the Santa Fe), the line dropped down nearly 1,000 feet to the town of Raton in about 8 route miles, making the west slope shorter but no less tortuous.

Given the excruciating grades of Raton Pass, the Santa Fe in 1907 opened a longer route (known as the “Belen Cutoff”) to handle most of its transcontinental freight tonnage, but Raton Pass remained active – and in fact, earned its glory – as the preferred route for Santa Fe’s legendary fleet of passenger trains, which in the post-WWII streamliner era included the famed Super Chief and its noted sibling, the El Capitan; the Chief; and the Grand Canyon.

Given its status as a secondary freight line in the 1950s and 1960s, tonnage on Raton during that era was limited, although made quite interesting by AT&SF’s assignment of Alco RSD5 and RSD7s diesels to the First District. Helpers, even for passenger trains, were as much the rule as the exception on Raton’s steep grades and through the decades everything from AT&SF Mallets and 2-10-4s to Alco six-motor diesels could be found battling the Sangre de Cristo slopes in helper duty.

Major change came to Raton Pass, just as it did to all of America, in May 1971 with the formation of Amtrak. Gone were Santa Fe’s fleet of streamliners, but the ghost of the Super Chief would remain on Raton through what became known as the Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief (after briefly being named the Amtrak Super Chief, then Southwest Limited). Amtrak Superliners came to the route in 1980 and in the early 1990s the Southwest Chief became noted as a regular long-haul assignment for Amtrak’s then-new and flashy GE B32-8WH (Dash 8-32BWH) diesels. Today, the Southwest Chief, with GE “Genesis” power, continues to cross Raton Pass daily in each direction.

In remarkable fashion, heavy tonnage returned to Raton Pass in the 1990s when the Santa Fe begin hauling coal mined in New Mexico’s York Canyon eastward to power plants in the Midwest. Leaving the mines, these trains consisted of 114 loads, but upon arrival at Raton, the trains were split into two sections, each of which required no less than six burly and beautiful Santa Fe GE C40-8Ws (three on the point and three as helpers) to cross the pass. The 1990s were an era of particular appeal on Raton Pass as the coal trains and Southwest Limited were joined by a regular AT&SF Kansas City – El Paso (Texas) intermodals and manifests operating between La Junta, Colorado and Barstow, California, as well as not-infrequent appearances by other AT&SF intermodals re-routed from the Belen cutoff for one reason or another.

Developed through the Dovetail Games Partner Programme by Milepost Simulations, the upcoming Train Simulator Raton Pass route will re-create the fascinating period of the early 1990s when Raton Pass was host to Santa Fe warbonnet diesels totting tonnage and to the stylish Superliner-equipped Amtrak Southwest Chief. The Raton Pass route will extend from the Colorado plains at Hoehne’s, then to Trinidad where the rugged climb over Raton Pass begins. With steep grades, tight curves, and a mix of single and double track, the path through the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to Raton, New Mexico promises challenging railroading. West (south) of Raton, the upcoming routes continues to Hebron, New Mexico, and offers a total of approximately mainline 45 route miles as well as yard and interchange facilities.

The Raton Pass route will feature a superb selection of locomotives and rolling stock. Santa Fe motive power will include two General Electric 4,000-horsepower “Dash 8” locomotives clad in Santa Fe’s famed silver-and-red “Warbonnet” livery: For fast-paced intermodal and manifest duty, the route will include AT&SF’s four-axle (B-B) GE B40-8W, and to haul heavy unit coal trains, Santa Fe’s six-axle C40-8W is included. To power the Amtrak Southwest Chief, Amtrak’s unique GE B32-8WH (Dash 8-32BWH), is provided. A complete Amtrak Superliner consist is also featured, highlighted by an all-new Amtrak Material Handling Car (MHC). And the route also will provide a fine selection of freight rolling stock, including distinctive articulated “spine car” piggyback flats. Note: The Raton Pass route will be available worldwide. Due to licensing restrictions, Santa Fe markings will appear only on content distributed to U. S. customers.

Rugged, remarkable, and legendary, Santa Fe’s glorious Raton Pass route is coming soon to Train Simulator! – Gary Dolzall

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Santa Fe’s famed Raton Pass is coming soon to Train Simulator! Set in the early 1990s, the route hosts AT&SF’s memorable red-and-silver “Warbonnet” diesels totting intermodal, coal, and freight tonnage, as well as Amtrak’s Superliner-equipped Southwest Chief. At Gallinas, Colorado, a quartet of Santa Fe GE B40-8Ws are easing down the east slope of Raton Pass with an intermodal train. Screenshots by Gary Dolzall.

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The east slope of Raton Pass climbs nearly 2,000 feet from Trinidad, Colorado to the route’s summit at the Colorado-New Mexico state line. The toughest part of the climb, which features grades of up to 3.7 percent, is between Gallinas and Wootton. A Santa Fe intermodal with modern “spine” car equipment is climbing above Gallinas (above), while Amtrak’s westbound Southwest Chief twists through the Wootton horseshoe (below).

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A landmark of Raton Pass is 2,041-foot-long Raton Pass Tunnel. At Wootton, Colorado, Santa Fe GE B40-8W 552 and an eastbound intermodal have just exited the east portal of the tunnel (above), while on the west side of the bore in New Mexico, a westbound train (below) is just topping the 7,588-foot summit of the rugged pass.

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On the upcoming Train Simulator Raton Pass route, it’s a winter day and Santa Fe is putting on a show of mountain railroading as “Warbonnet”-clad GE C40-8Ws lead empty coal hoppers west from Trinidad and meet an eastbound intermodal powered by GE B40-8Ws near Jansen, Colorado (above), then grind upgrade through the snowy pass at Gallinas (below).

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Santa Fe General Electric C40-8W 902 is on the point of a manifest freight departing Trinidad. At the eastern base of Raton Pass, Trinidad hosts an Amtrak station stop, AT&SF yard facilities, and a crossing and interchange with the Colorado & Southern (Burlington Northern).

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The upcoming Train Simulator Raton Pass route includes approximately 45 mainline route miles and in addition to the rugged crossing of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, features some plains-country fast running. Amtrak Train 3 - the westbound Southwest Chief – is hustling toward its Trinidad station stop (above), while near Hoehne’s, Colorado, a trio of six-axle Santa Fe GE Dash 8s have York Canyon coal in tow (below).

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Train Simulator’s new Raton Pass route will feature 4,000-horsepower GE “Dash 8” sister locomotives, the four-axle B40-8W and six-axle C40-8W, both dressed in the Santa Fe’s classic “Warbonnet” red and silver livery (above). The route will also include a variety of freight and passenger rolling stock, including an Amtrak Material Handling Car (below). The Amtrak Material Handling Car (MHC) was introduced in 1986 and retired by Amtrak in 2004.

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Amtrak’s westbound Southwest Chief has made it way over the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and prepares to make it stop at Raton’s classic 1903-built Spanish Revival-style station. Unforgettable and glorious western mountain railroading is coming soon to Train Simulator – with the Raton Pass route developed by Milepost Simulations!

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