The Moffat Tunnel in Colorado is one of the state’s secrets kept tightly under wraps, with serious emphasis on the under because this underground railroad tunnel in Denver isn’t very widely known. They aren’t trying to hide it, but the tunnel is instead overshadowed by the Eisenhower Tunnel, mainly because Eisenhower is for automobiles and the Moffat was designed for trains. That doesn’t change the fact, however, that the Moffat tunnel is a revolutionary part of Colorado’s history.
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David Moffat, the tunnel’s developer, was one of Colorado’s most influential financiers and industrialists. He was the man behind the Denver, Northwestern and Pacific Railway and his newest vision in 1902 was a new railroad. He was seeking a shorter route to travel from Denver to Salt Lake City, Utah. The ideal path would connect to the western part of Colorado by utilizing the Continental Divide. The Moffat Tunnel, if completed, would “eliminate 10,800 degrees of curvature” along the Rollins pass route, and would save hours in travel. This railroad itself, quickly accrued debt, however. Significant funds took a long time to obtain. Further, legislation concerned with Denver obtaining an upper hand in commerce if the tunnel were completed compromised progress.
When was the Moffat Tunnel built?
After years of legal debate, physical railroad construction began in 1922. These pre-construction woes were not the only ones faced during production. Over the project’s course, 28 lives were lost in a cave-in, “bad rock” was struck near the west end of the tunnel. Situations like this increased the cost of production and stalled progress. What started as an estimated 3-year, $4-6 million dollar project turned into a whopping $23,972,843 for the 6.2-mile tunnel. When you calculate the rate of inflation around 1,365%, that equals about $337,793,333 in today’s money.
The first draft of the route called for the tunnel under the Continental Divide to go around Rollins Pass or, alternatively, James Peak to reach Middle Park. However, the estimated time to build a tunnel under the mountain was approximately two to three years. It was decided that there should be a temporary road to cross the dive at the Rollins Pass while the tunnel was being built.
This is where the Moffat Road came into existence, following an old road from South Boulder to Jenny Creek, near another uncompleted project of Moffat’s. The Moffat Road served as a temporary route for 24 years while the Moffat Tunnel was being finished. Today, adventurers have access to activities such as hiking, camping, and skiing.
Construction of the road was finished in summer of 1927. The first train to travel it did so in February 1928. Today, the tunnel serves mostly as the Union Pacific Railroad’s transport for freight and coal, but rail passengers on the Amtrak train going across the United States on the California Zephyr will experience it.
Also on that ride, passengers will experience the highest point of sea level on the network at 9,239 feet. The Moffat Tunnel doubles as a water tunnel servicing the City of Denver with a portion of its water supply, as well.