The nose of a retired Denver & Rio Grande locomotive.EXPAND
The nose of a retired Denver & Rio Grande locomotive.
Kevin J. Beaty

Burnham Railroad Repair Yard Reaches End of the Line, Opening 70 Acres in Denver

After more than a century as a repair and storage yard for locomotives, Burnham Shop, a mass of tracks and buildings in central Denver just east of I-25 between Sixth and Eighth avenues, closed on February 14.

Omaha-based Union Pacific shut the facility, citing the decline in coal production and train-transport demands; the railroad still has a repair yard in north Denver, just off West 48th Avenue. 

Burnham Shop on a snowy Denver afternoon.EXPAND
Burnham Shop on a snowy Denver afternoon.
Kevin J. Beaty

The repair area was created during the 1870s, and in its heyday, the site was a self-contained city that housed a foundry, blacksmith, upholsterer and multiple workshops capable of creating a train car from the ground up. Those cars would travel to every corner of the state and beyond.

Now some of those original historic cars and engines, many of which have been stored in Burnham for two decades, will again grace Colorado’s rails as they move to new homes.

A few of Dan Quiat's historic train cars and a diesel engine at Burnham Shop.EXPAND
A few of Dan Quiat's historic train cars and a diesel engine at Burnham Shop.
Kevin J. Beaty

Dan Quiat, the owner of 25 historic cars and an engine, spent a few months agonizing over where he would move them.

"I'm feeling a lot of stress," he said as he led a tour of the cars late last month.

In November, when Union Pacific announced that Burnham would be closing, "they kind of said, basically, if the cars aren't out, they're gonna scrap them," he recalled.

Vintage logo on a retired Denver & Rio Grande locomotive.EXPAND
Vintage logo on a retired Denver & Rio Grande locomotive.
Kevin J. Beaty

For the last two decades, Burnham has been the unofficial home of the Museum of Railway Workers, which so far only exists as a collection of cars and a Facebook page.

Quiat hopes to one day open an interactive exhibit where he can display his riveted chrome coaches, cast cranes and hand-painted engines.

But for now, the priceless history under his stewardship just needs a temporary home.

A chrome derrick crane used by the Denver & Rio Grand Railroad.EXPAND
A chrome derrick crane used by the Denver & Rio Grand Railroad.
Kevin J. Beaty

Though his cars sit on the largest network of rails in the country, Quiat can’t just roll his property out of the yard.

Only after the formality of federal approval, brake testing and final repairs will he be allowed to move his cars on Union Pacific rails.

But to where?

Dan Quiat's Mt. Massive dining car.EXPAND
Dan Quiat's Mt. Massive dining car.
Kevin J. Beaty

Quiat met with Union Pacific a few weeks after our tour and says he's been promised time to get his lot in order.

But he is still has to find a new yard soon.

Burnham Shop, through the window of Daniel Quiat's historic dining car.EXPAND
Burnham Shop, through the window of Daniel Quiat's historic dining car.
Kevin J. Beaty

In some ways, Quiat’s cars are emblematic of larger changes in the transportation world.

His shiny dining cars, built in Burham, were gilded and upholstered so that passengers could travel in comfort, enjoying food cooked in transit as they barreled through the still-wild Colorado landscape.

Dan Quiat in one of his historic train cars.EXPAND
Dan Quiat in one of his historic train cars.
Kevin J. Beaty

As the automobile became ever more popular, demand for commercial train travel diminished and the rails aged.

Restaurant cars were converted for derrick service, providing sleeping and dining space for crews deployed to repair damaged lines.

The dining car kitchen, complete with metal knobs and handles made in a foundry that once stood in Burnham.EXPAND
The dining car kitchen, complete with metal knobs and handles made in a foundry that once stood in Burnham.
Kevin J. Beaty

Fast-forward another eighty years and now, industrial use of the rail lines has slowed almost to a halt.

“Loaded coal trains originating in Colorado have decreased 80 percent since 2005,” Union Pacific spokeswoman Calli Hite notes in an e-mail.

A partially-burned hunk of Colorado coal.EXPAND
A partially-burned hunk of Colorado coal.
Kevin J. Beaty

The productivity of Colorado coal mines has dropped almost 30 percent since 2001; the announcement of Burnham’s closing came just two months before the federal government halted new land leases for such mines.

An old bunk in an historic sleeper car.EXPAND
An old bunk in an historic sleeper car.
Kevin J. Beaty

At the same time coal is in decline, the demand for property in the heart of Denver has been increasing rapidly — and the closure of Burnham Shop opens up seventy acres to possible development.

A derrick crane hangs over iconic Denver architecture.EXPAND
A derrick crane hangs over iconic Denver architecture.
Kevin J. Beaty

Union Pacific has yet to announce its plans for the property; Hite says a decision will be made in the third quarter of 2016. 

A view of Burnham Shop through a vintage train car window.EXPAND
A view of Burnham Shop through a vintage train car window.
Kevin J. Beaty

While the fate of Burnham Shop is unknown, Quiat remains committed to protecting some of the equipment that was built there and in turn helped build Colorado as we know it today.

The sun sets over Burnham Shop.
The sun sets over Burnham Shop.
Kevin J. Beaty

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