Nebraska to Denver

A never-ending stream of 110 and 120 144,000 lb car Burlington Northern Santa Fe coal trains with DPU pushers from the massive coal fields of the Powder River Basin (PRB) near Gillette in northeast Wyoming run south on BNSF's Northport, Nebraska to Sterling, Colorado Angora Subdivision of the BNSF's Powder River Division, then west and south to Pueblo in southern Colorado on their way to southern states power plants. A veritable "coal corridor" some 375 miles long. Since 1988, the 24,000 sq. mile PRB region (named after the Powder River) is the single largest source of coal mined in America, with seams of ultra-low sulfur sub-bituminous coal up to 100 feet thick just under the surface, supplying 40% of the approximately one billion tons of coal each year used in power plants in 36 states.

In Sterling, incorporated in 1884 when the UP was offered free land for a right-of-way if shops and a roundhouse were located here, today is a crew change point, with several long unit trains and freights usually waiting in the rail yard at the eastern edge of town. Here trains leave the Angora Sub and enter the Brush Subdivision, but for the next 24 miles west to Union are on trackage shared with the Union Pacific's North Platte Area, Julesburg Subdivision. From Union trains are again on BNSF rails for the final 11.4 miles south into Brush before the 87 mile run southwest into Denver. Union is not a town, but the former junction of this UP line with the BNSF's line into Brush. The UP line from Sterling was built in 1881 from the UP's trans-continental line at Julesburg west through Sterling into La Salle to join UP's Cheyenne, Wyoming to Denver line. The line from Union to LaSalle was torn out in 1993, leaving this Sterling to Union track mainly for BN's use. BNSF's Union to Brush line was built in 1900 by BNSF predecessor Chicago Burlington & Quincy's predecessor Denver & Montana RR. This area was the location for some of the filming of James Mitchner's 1978-79 12-part TV mini series Centennial. In the opening of the film, Robert Conrad in the role of French-Canadian voyageur (traveling fur trapper) "Pasquinel" in the early 1800s, paddled his canoe up the Platte River and fought off an Indian attack in the cottonwoods that line the river banks here.

In Brush, the Brush Subdivision junctions with the western end of the BNSF's Akron Subdivision from McCook, Nebraska for the run southwest into Denver. But MP designations change from the Brush Sub's 150.0 to the Akron Sub's 454.9 to end at 542.1 in Denver. This line, purchased in 1872 from Burlington & Missouri River RR by Chicago, Burlington & Quincy, predecessor of today's BNSF, when completed into Denver in 1882 became the first direct rail line from Chicago to Denver, and is still the route of Amtrak's California Zephyr out of Chicago.

A coal empty returns to the PRB Mines through Lorenzo, Nebraska.
The grain silos on the horizon are in Peetz, Colorado.

Peetz, Colorado. The grain silos on the horizon are in Lorenzo, NE.




Westbound approaching Roggen.

Eastbound at East Roggen.

Westbound between Roggen and Keenesburg.



Commerce City, north of Denver.

Commerce City

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