Who Killed the Western Rail Lines?

In a few days, I will turn in my manuscript for Notorious Jefferson County, which is a regional history book about strange and infamous murder cases from the turn of the last century.

One “character” that appeared over and over in these stories was the Denver and Interurban tram (also called the Denver and Intermountain tram). Not only did the bad guys use it for their getaways, but the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office often used the tram system to transport prisoners.

It also created a nice sense of community back then. Citizens of Denver who wanted to get out of the city would take the tram out to Golden and hike up the table mountains for a pleasant picnic. No traffic jams, no parking problems. Just a fun tram ride. The system was fantastic.

Back around the turn of the last century, the Denver – Golden – Boulder region was crawling with trams, trains, and trolleys. There were two tram lines running between Denver and Golden and a tram between Denver and Leyden. A train ran between Denver and Boulder and there was even a line out to Eldorado Springs.

Car 83 ran between Denver and Leyden. Drawing by Richard Turner

I’d like to know why they shut down these rail lines and yanked up the track. The paranoid side of me figures it was the automobile industry, probably colluding with nefarious oil tycoons. I dunno. I can’t imagine that it was done for the good of the citizens of our region. I’m guessing it was because someone stood to make a lot of profit and the rail lines were interfering in that. Of course, maybe I’m too cynical. I doubt it.

I am aware that the same thing happened in northern California as well and probably in other places. The big irony here is that the new light rail going in between Denver and Golden, and Denver and Boulder will be laying the tracks down along the same route where the knuckleheads pulled them up all those decades ago. Hopefully Big Oil and Big Whoever won’t stop it this time.

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7 thoughts on “Who Killed the Western Rail Lines?

  1. Hi Carol! Your book sounds quite interesting. I’ve had a nice time reading some of your previous posts, already. I think some of those old tracks ran right along the shipping tracks that still exist today. There certainly isn’t as much of a gap around the tracks now as there used to be. Check out this pic:

    http://photoswest.org/cgi-bin/imager?00073451

    You can find lots of good ones searching there under “Denver Interurban” …I just found a crash. 🙂 I actually just turned in a local history manuscript of my own this week. It’s a strange mix, focusing on water use, history, and the US-36 corridor. You focus on the people, but for me it’s all about the land. We ought to compare notes! I have a fondness for the “notorious” history as well. In fact, I’m really surprised that we’ve studied the same area without running into quite the same dark figures. If you like, drop me an email and I’ll send some of my good notes. (My next project is a full-on historical murder mystery novel!)

    • Hey Karmen, That is an excellent picture. Standley Lake! I think I may have stumbled onto your website before. Didn’t you announce that you were taking a break or was that someone else? If you’ve been studying the “notorious” bits of Jefferson County chances are we’ve run into some of the same characters. What’s your email? Carol

  2. Hi Carol, Yes, Standley Lake is one of my favorite “characters”–it has quite a background. You may have seen my blog on ScienceBlogs. I announced there that I was taking a break a little over a year ago, to work on Boulder’s Ditch Project and a novel. Then the Ditch Project led to another book. I still hope to blog again someday. Anyhow, my email is karmenATchaoticutopiaDOTcom. I look forward to hearing from you! -Karmen

  3. Hi Carol, very interesting stuff, do you have any access to the maps of these lines, where were the power stations for them? Do you know if there are any current remains visible along any of the right aways, bridges, road beds, etc. Along old Marshal Road, going from Hwy93 to Costco in Superior, there seems to be a railroad roadbed, could this be the Denver Boulder route? The Lyden route, where did it terminate and start?
    thanks
    Bruce

    • Hi Bruce,
      I have a giant-sized map of the system that I bought at the Colorado Railroad Museum (just a rolled up map that cost $5 or 10). It shows the Leyden route starting in downtown Denver and ending in Leyden, a bit east of 93. The guy who works at that museum knows everything about these trams and I believe is writing a book about it. It was really a fantastic system.

      I know there was once a tram all the way to Eldorado Springs from Denver so the route you describe could be that one. The map I have is just the “interurban loop” though, which includes Denver, Golden, and Leyden, so Eldorado Sprgs doesn’t show. But I’ve researched a couple of stories that referred to people taking the tram to Eldorado Springs.

  4. Hi. I stumbled across your blog while researching an article about the opening of light rail on the old right-of-way of the Denver, Lakewood & Golden RR, later the Route 84 tram between Denver and Golden. http://www.goldenvisitorsbureau/history/history_interurban.php . I think the reason they shut down the trolleys was simply that the Denver Tramway Company found that the the cost per passenger mile was less with buses than trains. A shame, isn’t it? Now we’ve spent billions to duplicate just part of what we had 100 years ago.

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