Colorado Central Railroad

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This page was last updated on June 1, 2015.

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The Colorado Central Railroad was actually three separate railroads.

The first to be built was a standard gauge line constructed in 1870 west from Denver to Golden, and in 1873 north from Golden to Longmont. This line was part of the struggle during the 1870s among the power brokers of Boston, New York, St. Louis and Denver as they contested for control of railroad traffic in Colorado.

The second Colorado Central was the narrow gauge line constructed in 1872, west from Golden up Clear Creek Canyon to Black Hawk and Georgetown, to gain access to the mines in the area. It later became well known as the Colorado & Southern's narrow gauge line.

The third was the Colorado Central Julesburg Branch, built by Union Pacific in 1882 as a cutoff for its Omaha-Denver traffic, connecting its Nebraska mainline with the Denver Pacific line to Denver. The Julesburg line later became the First Subdivision of UP's Wyoming Division, connecting La Salle on the old Denver Pacific, with Julesburg on the UP mainline.


Colorado Central Railroad Timeline

Colorado Central History

Colorado's movers and shakers saw the need for railroad transportation very early, well before Union Pacific was completed to Cheyenne, Wyoming in late 1867. The earliest efforts for a railroad in Colorado started in February 1865 when the territorial legislature created the territory's first railroad, known as Colorado & Clear Creek Railroad. Not enough investors took advantage of the new company, so it was reorganized in January 1866 with grander goals, and a new name: Colorado Central & Pacific Railroad. Again success did not come to the company's organizers, so in January 1868 the company was renamed again, to the Colorado Central Railroad.

Colorado Central's first locomotive came to the railroad in 1868 from Union Pacific and was the former UPRR number 3, which had been one of UPRR's very first locomotives dating from mid 1864. As part of the 1870 agreement between Union Pacific and Colorado Central, UP sold Colorado Central a second locomotive, the former UPRR number 56.

Soon after it was created in early 1868, Colorado Central Railroad was caught up among the power brokers who wanted to build a railroad into Denver from the east, with support being split between two companies which were competing to be the first to complete the eastern portion of the Pacific Railroad. These two companies were Union Pacific Railroad, building across Nebraska, and the Union Pacific, Eastern Division, building across Kansas (Union Pacific, Eastern Division became the Kansas Pacific Railway in March 1869). Both roads were under a mandate from the federal government to complete a transcontinental railroad as soon as possible by connecting with the Central Pacific building west from California as the western half of the Pacific Railroad. At the time, many thought that Central Pacific would be able to build as far east as Wyoming.

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Union Pacific laid its first track at Omaha, Nebraska in July 1865 and by July 1866 the railroad was completed to Grand Island. Union Pacific completed its line to Cheyenne in November 1867 and the track layers continued on west toward Utah, headed for a connection with Central Pacific.

After completing its line 406 miles west from Kansas City in August 1868, the Union Pacific, Eastern Division was stalled at a point 232 miles east of Denver, near today's town of McAllaster, Kansas. The company changed its name to Kansas Pacific Railway in March 1869, and construction resumed toward Denver in October 1869. To get the road completed sooner, Kansas Pacific construction started east from Denver in March 1870 at a connection with the soon-to-be completed Denver Pacific, and the two crews met at a point called Comanche Crossing, Kansas Territory, on August 15, 1870. Operation between Kansas City and Denver began on September 1, 1870.

By late 1867, it was obvious that Union Pacific, Eastern Division had missed its chance to connect with Central Pacific, so the road's promoters focused on controlling the railroads into Denver, especially from the north and a connection with Union Pacific at Cheyenne. To speed construction of its connection between Denver and Cheyenne, and to occupy the territory and keep Union Pacific from building its own line to Denver, U.P.E.D. got together with local investors and organized the Denver Pacific Railway (full name: Denver Pacific Railway and Telegraph Company). Construction started at Denver in November 1867 and Denver Pacific was completed to Cheyenne in June 1870.

In the meantime, U.P.E.D. had been renamed as the Kansas Pacific Railway. This new connection between Denver and Cheyenne allowed Kansas Pacific to control all of the rail traffic to Denver, inbound and outbound; both from the north from Cheyenne and from the east from Kansas City.

While UP and U.P.E.D. were set at getting their own lines completed, the Colorado's own Colorado Central & Pacific started construction at Denver in May 1867, and reached Golden in September 1870. Colorado Central & Pacific Railroad shortened its name to just Colorado Central Railroad in January 1868. But this little, locally-owned railroad, just 14 miles long, soon became a pawn in the plans for both Union Pacific and Kansas Pacific to reach the mining camps of the mountains west of Golden. In March 1870 Union Pacific and its owners and Colorado Central signed an agreement for UP to finance Colorado Central's expansion north from Golden to a connection with Union Pacific near Cheyenne, as a competing line to Kansas Pacific's soon-to-be-completed Denver Pacific line.

To get their share of the Colorado traffic, Union Pacific interests agreed in 1870 to finance Colorado Central's expansion north from Golden. Construction reached 47 miles north of Golden to Longmont in April 1873, where it stalled for over four years. A financial panic in the East ended any plans Union Pacific may have had to gain direct access to traffic from the Colorado mines. Union Pacific was not paying the semiannual interest payments on the government loans from the original 1869 transcontinental construction, and the government was very close to forcing the company into receivership. In February 1874 a New York financier by the name of Jay Gould took control of Union Pacific in its weakened state, and Gould set about consolidating his interests to control both the transcontinental traffic as well and Utah and Colorado mining traffic.

Colorado Central was under the control of Jay Gould's Union Pacific, but maneuvers in the courts and corporate board rooms stalled any construction activity. Gould held control by simple majority stock ownership, but each of the major components of Gould's consolidation had different financial roots, with different corporate structures, some more fragile than others. Expenses always seemed to exceed income. For too many of the companies, the cost of construction, along with the profits being taken, did not match the actual income from the traffic being moved over the railroads. One result was that Colorado Central was forced into receivership on August 12, 1876. In November 1876 the Kansas Pacific was also forced into receivership.

Competition for Gould's control of the Colorado railroad traffic came when AT&SF reached Pueblo from the east in March 1876, allowing traffic from Denver to be diverted away from Gould's roads, south over Palmer's D&RG line between Denver and Pueblo, which had been completed in June 1872. (Klein, pages 348-349)

After many delays, in July 1877, Colorado Central, with Union Pacific backing, started construction of its connecting line between Longmont and UP's mainline near Cheyenne. The 65-mile-long connection opened for traffic on November 7, 1877. Almost immediately there were complaints of poor line location and shoddy construction. (Klein, page 352-353)

Colorado Central Railroad was leased to Union Pacific Railroad on March 1, 1879 for a period of 50 years. The operational name was changed to Union Pacific Railroad, Colorado Division.

On March 7, 1879 Jay Gould and his investor associates agreed to purchase controlling interest in the Kansas Pacific Railway, including the Denver Pacific between Denver and Cheyenne, a line that paralleled the Colorado Central. This gave Union Pacific complete control over the railroad traffic between Denver and Cheyenne, either over the Colorado Central, or over the better built and shorter Denver Pacific.

Julesburg Branch

To shorten the distance needed to move its Denver-bound traffic, instead of through Cheyenne then south to Denver, Union Pacific financed a cutoff across northeastern Colorado. In July 1880 construction started for this new line that connected with UP's mainline at Julesburg, and which paralleled the South Platte River the entire distance from Julesburg to a connection with Denver Pacific at La Salle, a distance of 150 miles. The new line was constructed by Union Pacific construction crews, and was operated by Union Pacific as the Colorado Central Julesburg Branch. It was also known as the Julesburg Division or Julesburg District. The new line was completely separate from other portions of the Colorado Central Railroad.

January 1, 1882 -- Operations began across northeastern Colorado, between Julesburg and La Salle, with intermediate points being placed in service as they were completed in July and November 1881. At La Salle, the Colorado Central Julesburg Branch connected with Denver Pacific Railway, completed in 1870 and controlled by Union Pacific after 1880.

Controlled and operated by Union Pacific as the Julesburg District (or Julesburg Division), using locomotives UPRy had sold to Colorado Central.

Competition for UP's Colorado Central Julesburg Branch came in May 1882 when the Burlington & Colorado Railroad was completed to Denver, building from the Nebraska-Colorado line. The Burlington & Colorado was controlled by Chicago Burlington & Quincy Railroad after July 1880, along with Burlington & Missouri River Railroad, which built across Nebraska to the Colorado line.

In 1882, Union Pacific organized the Greeley Salt Lake & Pacific Railway and built the new railroad as an east-west connection between Greeley (on Denver Pacific) and Fort Collins (on Colorado Central).

On May 14, 1885, Union Pacific's Denver Marshall & Boulder Railway subsidiary completed its direct Denver-Boulder route. UP had controlled the line since 1882, and completion of the new line gave Union Pacific a direct route that bypassed the Colorado Central's longer Denver-Golden-Boulder route.

In 1889 the Colorado Central Railroad from Fort Collins north and its connection with UP just west of Cheyenne was abandoned, a distance of 45 miles. The line had been poorly located and poorly built, and UP's Denver Pacific line was shorter between Denver and Cheyenne, with most UP traffic moving by that connection.

Also in 1889 the portion of the original Colorado Central line between Golden and Louisville was abandoned in favor of operations over Denver Marshall & Boulder Railway's direct line between Denver and Boulder (Colorado Central and DM&B were both controlled by UP at the time).

(This line became the C&S mainline north from Denver to Boulder, Longmont, and Fort Collins. A new line was built in 1911 by the C&S to directly connect Fort Collins with Cheyenne, and to end C&S trains having to travel over the tracks of UP's former Greeley Salt Lake & Pacific from Fort Collins to Greeley, and over UP's former Denver Pacific between Greeley and Cheyenne.)

The following equipment was sold to Colorado Central Railroad by Union Pacific for Julesburg Branch, dated December 1881 (source: Union Pacific account "Journal B", page 509, courtesy Hol Wagner)

Quantity Description Cost
4 Eight Wheeled locomotives Nos. 29, 30, 31 and 32. Each complete at $12,000.00 $48,000.00
6 Ten Wheeled locomotives Nos 236, 237, 24, 251, 257 and 258. Each complete at $13,750.00 $82,500.00
2 1st Class Coaches Nos 44 and 45 $12,000.00
2 2nd Class Coaches Nos. 2 and 6 $10,500.00
2 Baggage Cars $7,350.00
2 Express Cars $7,350.00
5 Postal Cars $27,500.00
225 Box Cars $126,000.00
75 Stock cars $42,000.00
100 Flat Cars $42,500.00
100 Coal Cars $45,000.00
7 Cabooses $10,332.00
  Total $416,032.00

Union Pacific, Denver & Gulf Railway

On April 1, 1890, the Colorado Central Railroad became part of a new Union Pacific-controlled Union Pacific Denver & Gulf Railway, along with 11 other UP-controlled railroads in Colorado and New Mexico. The UP-controlled line in Texas were not included due to Texas corporation laws.


Because it was so closely tied to Union Pacific as its parent company, the Union Pacific, Denver & Gulf Railway (as successor to Colorado Central) was forced into bankruptcy and receivership along with Union Pacific on October 13, 1893. On November 25, 1893, due to its different mortgage and financial structure, UPD&G was separated from Union Pacific and was sold under foreclosure to a group of its creditors and bondholders who immediately set about reorganizing the company as an independent railroad. Like many of Union Pacific's subsidiary companies, UPD&G operated as an independent company while its court-appointed receivers settled its financial affairs and made it an attractive property for new ownership.

On January 11, 1899, all of the standard gauge UPD&G (excluding the former Colorado Central Julesburg Branch) and narrow gauge Denver Leadville & Gunnison were reorganized as the newly organized Colorado & Southern Railway. The new C&S extended from Orin Junction, Wyoming (connection with CB&Q) in the north, to Texline, Texas (connection with Forth Worth & Denver) in the south.

On February 6, 1899, as part of the settlement of the UPRy 1893 bankruptcy, UPD&G's former Colorado Central Julesburg Branch, from La Salle to Julesburg, was sold to the new Union Pacific Railroad. The Colorado Central Julesburg Branch was held under separate mortgage since it had been entirely financed and built by Union Pacific Railway. The Julesburg line became the First Subdivision of UP's Wyoming Division. The 18 locomotives assigned to the Julesburg line remained with the Colorado & Southern and received C&S road numbers.

Julesburg Branch Status, after 1994

MP 0.0 to MP 57.5 -- Julesburg to Sterling; 57.5 miles; still in service as a branch used by UP.

MP 57.5 to MP 81.1 -- Sterling to Union; 23.6 miles; used by BNSF as a connection between its mainline at Fort Morgan and its line to the east of Sterling.

BNSF has its own trackage in place between Fort Morgan and Union.

The Sterling to Union segment is a vital connection for BNSF unit coal trains from Wyoming's Powder River Basin, south through Sidney, Brush, Denver, Colorado Springs, and south to Texas. The line is used by many coal trains daily, along with empties and a couple of manifest trains each way.

MP 81.1 to MP 98.6 -- Union to Fort Morgan; 17.7 miles; abandoned by UP in September 1994

MP 98.6 to MP 140.0 -- Fort Morgan to Monfort; 41.4 miles; abandoned by UP some time between April 1991 and April 1994

MP 140.0 to MP 150.9 -- Monfort to La Salle; 10.9 miles; today known as the Monfort Industrial Lead and is used to deliver grain to the large JBS Five Rivers Cattle Feeding Company feedlot.


Colorado Central, Julesburg Branch -- A Google Map of UP's Julesburg Branch, built by the Colorado Central Railroad in 1881. Includes BNSF portion.


Colorado Central Railroad Standard Gauge Locomotives

Colorado Central Railroad Narrow Gauge Locomotives


Union Pacific: The Birth of a Railroad 1862-1893 by Maury Klein

The Colorado Road by Hol Wagner

Union Pacific Country by Robert Athearn

More Information

Colorado Central entry at Wikipedia