Colorado by narrow gauge railway

I love the sound of a steam engine as it climbs a steep bank; the smell of oil which increases as the loco strains ever harder to haul its load; the rolling of the carriage and the clickety-clack of wheels against rails; to me a steam train sounds and feels as if it is alive and I don’t think there is a better way to travel.

Railways create history; the railways represents human industrial history, and showcases how mankind can sometimes overcome nature.  There in the mountains of Colorado exists a railway which exemplifies the way that humans can sometimes tame nature.  The Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Rail Road is testament to how brilliant engineering and human endeavour can really shape the land.

Durango was founded by the Denver & Rio Grande Railway in 1880. The railroad arrived in Durango on August 5, 1881 and construction on the line to Silverton began in the fall of the same year. By July of 1882, the tracks to Silverton were completed and the train began hauling both passengers and freight.

From the very beginning, the railroad was promoted as a scenic route for passenger service although the line was constructed primarily to haul mine ores, both gold and silver, from the San Juan Mountains. It is estimated over $300 million in precious metals has been transported over this route.

During the latter part of the 1960s, the Durango-Silverton was registered as a National Historic Landmark and was awarded as a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. In 1969 the D&RGW abandoned the tracks south of Durango isolating the line and leaving the future of the line in question.

The scenic splendour of the railway has often been used by Hollywood as a backdrop for many films where a western railroad was required.  One of the best known movies to be filmed here was Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.     

Throughout the 1980s, the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Rail Road continued to build on the scenic tourist railroad industry. Engines and coaches began to be weatherized for winter use; a third train to Silverton was added to the schedule along with an alternative fourth train to Cascade Canyon Wye; major track reconstruction occurred as nearly ten thousand ties were replaced. Locomotives #497 and #480 were restored and returned to service, the #497 being the only K-37 to run on the line and the innovative RailCamp was built for use in the summer. In 1985 the D&SNGRR purchased the Silverton Depot, returning it to service. By 1986 there were four trains running to Silverton with a fifth running to Cascade Canyon Wye!

Today the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad continues to provide year-round train service, operating a historical train with rolling stock indigenous to the line. The locomotives used to pull today’s train remain 100% coal-fired, steam-operated. The locomotives are 1923-25 vintage and are maintained in original condition. The coaches each feature bathroom facilities and are heated during the winter months for passenger comfort. Open gondola cars provide a panoramic view of the mountains. Concessions are available on every train. The Durango & Silverton is owned and operated by American Heritage Railways.

Durango is southwest Colorado’s largest town, with a population of approximately 15,000. The town is located near the Four Corners junction with New Mexico, Arizona and Utah, and is perched at 6,512 feet, nestled between red sandstone bluffs in the vast Animas River Valley. To the north lie the peaks of the San Juan and Needles Mountains, which rise to an average elevation above 10,500 feet. To the west are arid desert lands, and to the south lies the southern border of the two million acre San Juan National Forest, and stark canyon country.

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