The Midland Rail Line Is Still In Service…Kind Of

*Note: This audio essay first aired on KRCC (Colorado Springs’ NPR affiliate, 91.5 FM) on May 27, 2021. The link to the program is here; the audio file and the text from the essay are below.

Some roads are too good to go away. Or maybe they’re too tough to die. Like the Midland. 

The Colorado Midland Railway was born in 1883. If you’ve ever headed west on U.S. Highway 24, you’ve followed the same route as the first standard gauge railroad built over the Continental Divide. The Midland ran from Colorado Springs out to Leadville, on to Grand Junction. The full line was up by 1890.

Colorado being Colorado, the Midland was a rough rail line. Consider the rise just west of Colorado Springs, all those curves and climbs. And after, it still had three summits to go! 

It ceased operations in 1918, but like a caterpillar becomes a butterfly, the Midland is still with us. It looks different, but its new forms are even more impressive.

At the intersection of 21st Street and Highway 24 in Colorado Springs, you can’t miss the Ghost Town Museum. It was originally built in 1899 by the Midland Railroad for train maintenance.

Highway 24 itself was made on top of the old Midland line, all the way out to Buena Vista. 

There’s tunnels too. Starting in Manitou Springs, on the south side of Highway 24, you’ll find five tunnels the Midland blasted to make the line, one so long and so dark you need a flashlight to make it through. 

But by far my favorite stretch is the Midland Trail that connects Manitou Springs to Colorado Springs. It’s a rail trail, and it’s a beauty, part of the more than 2,200 American rail lines that have been converted to trails. 

The Midland’s no longer in service, but the Midland’s path is still serving us every day. 

Good things don’t die, they just change.

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