Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad

Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad
Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad
Locale La Plata County and San Juan County, Colorado
Dates of operation 1881–present
Track gauge 3 ft  (914 mm)
Length 45 miles
Headquarters Durango, Colorado
Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad
One of the morning trains on the Highline above Animas Canyon
Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad is located in Colorado
Location: Right-of-way between Durango and Silverton, Colorado
Coordinates: 37°17′51″N 107°42′39″W / 37.2975°N 107.71083°W / 37.2975; -107.71083Coordinates: 37°17′51″N 107°42′39″W / 37.2975°N 107.71083°W / 37.2975; -107.71083
Built: 1882
Architect: General William J. Palmer
Governing body: Private
NRHP Reference#:


Significant dates
Added to NRHP: October 15, 1966
Designated NHL: July 4, 1961
The train pulls into Silverton

The Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad (D&SNG) is a narrow gauge heritage railroad that operates 45 miles (72 km) of 3 ft  (914 mm) track between Durango and Silverton, in the US state of Colorado. The railway is a federally designated National Historic Landmark and is also designated by the American Society of Civil Engineers as a Historic Civil Engineering Landmark.

The route was originally built between 1881 and 1882, by the Denver and Rio Grande Railway, in order to carry supplies and people to and silver and gold ore from mines in the San Juan Mountains. The line was an extension of the D&RG narrow gauge from Antonito, Colorado to Durango. The last train to operate into Durango from the east was on December 6, 1968. The States of New Mexico and Colorado purchased 64 miles of the line between Antonito and Chama, New Mexico in 1970 and operates today as the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad. The trackage between Chama and Durango was abandoned and rails were removed by 1971.

The line from Durango to Silverton has run continuously since 1881, although it is now a tourist and heritage line hauling passengers, and is one of the few places in the United States which has seen continuous use of steam locomotives. In March 1981, the Denver & Rio Grande Western sold the line and the D&SNG was formed.[3]

Some of the rolling stock dates back to the 1880s. The trains run from Durango to the Cascade Wye in the winter months and run from Durango to Silverton during the summer months. The depot in Durango was built in January 1882 and has been preserved in original form.[3]



William Jackson Palmer (1836 to 1908) was a former Union General (serving in the American Civil War) who came to Colorado after managing the construction of the Kansas Pacific Railroad into Denver in 1870. Prior to the war, he had risen within the ranks of the Pennsylvania Railroad serving as secretary to the president. After arriving in Denver, he formulated a plan to build a narrow gauge (3-foot between the rails) railroad southward from Denver to El Paso, Texas[4] (see Denver and Rio Grande Western). In 1871, the Denver & Rio Grande Railway began to lay rails south from Denver. Palmer and his associates had agreed that the choice of narrow gauge would be well suited to the mountainous country, and relatively less expensive construction costs would enhance the viability of the new railroad. The original north-south plans of the D&RG eventually expanded to include extensions throughout the booming mining country of central and southwestern Colorado.

On August 5, 1881 the Denver & Rio Grande Railway arrived in Durango, Colorado. The new town was founded by the D&RG in 1880 chiefly through the talents and organization of General Palmer's business partner Dr. William Bell. Construction to Silverton, Colorado began that fall. Only 11 months later, the D&RG reached Silverton on July, 10 1882. Trains hauling passengers and freight began immediately. The Denver & Rio Grande Railway soon re-emerged as the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad (1886) and ultimately began operating as the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad (D&RGW) on July 31, 1921 after re-organization of the Colorado lines and Rio Grande Western of Utah.[5] Eventually, the railroad became widely known as the "Rio Grande".

The Silverton branch, as it became known, struggled under D&RG ownership following the panic of 1893 and the end of free coinage of silver. Typical of many portions of the surviving narrow gauge branches into the middle of the twentieth century, the line faced sagging revenue due to ever declining mining ventures, highway trucking competition, and insignificant passenger revenue. Annual snowslides and several major floods on the branch would only continue to challenge the railroad's ability to survive. After World War II, domestic tourism began to grow across the country, and the Silverton branch of the D&RGW would benefit. Bolstered by national exposure via Hollywood movies being filmed along the line in the late 1940s, the D&RGW began to see a gradual increase in passenger traffic on the mixed train to Silverton. In 1950, the railroad adorned a locomotive and four coaches with a colorful paint scheme and launched modest public promotion. With this effort, "The Painted Train" officially started a new era of tourism that continues to this day. Freight traffic, however, continued to decline and by the early 1950s, year round operations had ceased and only the summer tourist traffic and very light freight business would be handled on the mixed trains during summer months. By the 1960s, the modern and efficient D&RGW did not see the Silverton Branch as worthy to maintain and a petition was filed with governmental agencies to abandon the route. The ICC declined to grant the request due to the continued increase in tourist patronage. Following the ICC's ruling, the railroad reluctantly responded by investing in additional rolling stock, track maintenance, and improvements to the Durango depot. The railroad purchased some of the property around the depot, cleaned up the block extending north to Sixth Street, and facilitated the opening of gift shops and other tourist friendly businesses. The area was now christened "Rio Grande Land". A second daily train to Silverton was added in 1963, and the ridership continued to grow. Since 1971, this line and the line that is now the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad had been the only remnants of what was once an extensive Rio Grande narrow-gauge network.[3] All the while, the Rio Grande was actively trying to sell the line, and in 1979 Charles Bradshaw, a Florida citrus grower, offered the D&RGW a legitimate opportunity to divest itself of its antiquated and isolated line as negotiations began for purchase of the Silverton. As history would have it, October 5 of 1980 would mark the last departure of the Silverton under Rio Grande management. After a work train operated the following day and returned to Durango, the Denver and Rio Grande Western was finished with narrow gauge train operations.

New Ownership

The D&SNG was founded by Charles Bradshaw Jr., of Florida, with intent of purchasing the 45-miles of right-of-way and equipment while expanding the infastructure and passenger revenue. His plans were fulfilled with the March 1981 acquisition of the D&RGW's 45-mile (72 km) Silverton branch and all of its structures and rolling stock.[3]

The improvements to the railroad in the 1980s would prove to be the most dramatic growth on the Silverton Branch since the earlier part of the century. Bolstered by the assistance of former Rio Grande operating managers and a relatively sizeable staff of new employees, Bradshaw's plans were set in motion immediately. Included in the sale were former D&RGW locomotives and rolling stock that had not seen service in Durango for many years. "K-36" and "K-37" class locomotives were eventually restored to operating condition and these larger class of engines operated to Silverton for the first time ever following bridge and right-of-way improvements to the line. 1880s vintage coaches were exquisitely restored and new coaches were added to the roster of rolling stock. For the first time in many years, doubleheaded trains (trains with two locomotives) and additional scheduled trains were employed to handle the continually growing passenger trade. The Durango yard facilities also saw dramatic improvements. An extension was added to the old roundhouse, a new car shop was built on the site of the original "car barn", and the depot saw extensive repair and internal modifications. The workforce grew with the railroad, and Durango's tourist image expanded as new businesses and revamping of the old railroad town continued to take shape. The original Durango roundhouse was completely destroyed by fire in the winter of 1989. All six operable locomotives had been inside at the time and were damaged, but not beyond repair. All locomotives were eventually restored to operating condition. A new roundhouse was constructed on the same site, opening in early 1990, and its facade made use of bricks salvaged from the original building.[3]

In March 1997 Bradshaw sold the D&SNG to First American Railways, Inc., located in Hollywood, Florida. Then in July 1998 the railroad was sold again to American Heritage Railways. At the time American Heritage Railways was headquartered in Coral Gables, Florida. Since then their headquarters have been moved to Durango, Colorado. The D&SNGRR has two museums, one each in Durango and Silverton.


  • Allen C. Harper — President and CEO
  • Jeffrey D. Jackson — Vice President and COO
  • Paul A. Schranck — Vice President and General Manager[6]
  • Evan Buchanan — Superintendent
  • Steve Jackson — Vice President and Mechanical Operations[7]

D&SNG engines

The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad operates coal-fired steam engines and diesel engines.


Technical information

The steam-powered locomotives used today on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad were built during the 1920s. There are two classes, K-28 and K-36, which are based on wheel arrangement and pulling power of the locomotive.

The K represents the nickname "Mikado" that describes a locomotive with two non-powered, pivoting wheels in front of eight driving wheels, which are connected to driving rods powered by the engine's pistons, and finally two non-powered trailer wheels located under the cab. The name comes from the fact that the first significant use of the type was a series built by Baldwin Locomotive Works for the Japanese Railways in 1887.

The numbers 28 and 36 designate pulling or tractive effort of the locomotive in thousands of pounds. The tractive effort of K-28s is rated at 27,500 pounds-force (122.326 kN), and the tractive effort of a K-36 is a 36,200 pounds-force (161.026 kN). The weight of a K-28 with a full tender is 254,500 pounds (115,439 kg) and a K-36 weighs 286,600 pounds (130,000 kg) with a full tender. tractive effort

470 Series

D & S 2-8-2 K-28 locomotive No. 473 on arrival at Silverton with a train from Durango in June 1990
Engine 476 in operation, 2000

The 470 series or 2-8-2 K-28 locomotives were ten engines designed for freight service along the D&RG.[8] They were built by the Schenectady Locomotive Works[9] of the American Locomotive Company (Alco) in Schenectady, New York in 1923. The K-28s have 28,000 lbf (124.550 kN). of tractive effort, superheated, and the boilers are fed by two non-lifting injectors. Air brakes are 6-ET automatic and also feature a straight air secondary braking system for daily passenger trains. Due to their smaller size these engines are often used on the Durango & Silverton for shorter trains, usually the first or last on the schedule, and often for helper service or sectioned trains. Despite being smaller than the K-36 class locomotives, older, and less powerful, the engine crews tend to favor a trip on these engines because the design ALCO used was superior in balance and servicing. Firing can be tricky when the engine is working hard, as the clam shell style firedoors tend to pull into the backhead of the boiler due to the draft, and if any flues in the boiler are leaking, the loss of draft on the fire is much harder to work around than on the K-36 locomotives. Firing while the engine is working hard is done with a large "heel" pattern, generally with as little coal on the flue sheet as possible, and gradually sloping the fire bed towards the door sheet to the height or higher than the firedoors. This results in the draft being forced through the fire bed in the thinner areas towards the flue sheet, which usually is hindered by the lack of draft between the grates and the arch brick. New firemen sometimes have a hard time learning this because the art of reading a fire takes time to learn, and the amount of time working on the K-28 class locomotives is far reduced compared to the railroads usual K-36 workhorses which have a larger firebox and are more forgiving in technique.

Out of the original ten only three 470s remain, and all are owned by the D & S. The other seven were requisitioned by the United States Army in 1942 to be used on the White Pass & Yukon Route in Alaska during World War II. They were later dismantled for scrap in 1946.

Locomotives 473, 476, and 478 operated on many parts of the D&RGW. Engine 473 served frequently on the Chili Line that operated between Antonito, Colorado and Santa Fe, New Mexico. 473 served on the Chili Line until it was abandoned in 1941. 476 and 478 saw an extensive service on the San Juan passenger train, which ran between Durango, Colorado and Alamosa, Colorado until 1951. 473, 476, and 478 operated on the Silverton Branch from the 1950s through 1980 and are still in service today.

  1. 473 is operational.[9]
  2. 476 is currently stored and on display in the museum.[9] Is awaiting major repairs.
  3. 478 is currently operational.[9]

480 Series

K-36 Steam locomotives #482 & #480 in Silverton

The 480 series or K-36 locomotives were ten engines designed for the D&RGW. They were built by the Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1925. The 480s were the last ten narrow gauge locomotives constructed for the DRGW. The 480s were used for freight-hauling throughout the D&RGW narrow gauge network. The "36" stands for 36,000 lbf (160.136 kN). of tractive effort. These engines are outside frame Mikados, and all drive wheels have counterbalancing outside of the frame, resulting in the utilitarian look the engines are known for. The engines currently use 6-ET automatic air and the secondary straight air used on regular service equipment. The railroad runs 12 car passenger trains behind these engines, however more cars will require the train to be doubleheaded. Despite popular belief that the railroad does not doublehead trains out of Durango because of smoke, the real reason is the weight restriction on the bridge at 15th. Street, not allowing more than one K-36 at a time (K-28 class engines however are still doubleheaded from Durango). The engines were delivered with Master Mechanics design smokeboxes for draft, however at some point the D&RGW converted them to Andersson (cyclone) front ends. Water is fed to the boiler by two non-lifting injectors. The 40-square-foot (3.7 m2) grate surface in the firebox is among the largest built for a narrow gauge locomotive, and is fed by hand firing. Firing is simpler on these engines compared to the K-28s, however the larger surface area requires more fuel. A typical trip uses around 3–5 short tons (2.68–4.46 long tons; 2.72–4.54 t) on the way up to Silverton, and another 1–2 short tons (0.89–1.79 long tons; 0.91–1.81 t) on the return to Durango. Ergonomically, the engines are less comfortable than the others as well, with the crew seats being further back from the backhead, and the engineer having to lean forward constantly to adjust the throttle and use the sanders. The running gear on the locomotives also tend to wear out faster than the ALCO designed K-28s, and the resulting pounding rough ride can take a toll on the engines crew.

D&SNG owns four K-36s: 480, 481, 482, and 486, all of which are operational. The Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad owns engines 483, 484, 487, 488, and 489. Engine 485, unfortunately, fell into the turntable pit in Salida, Colorado in 1955. It was scrapped for parts thereafter, however some accessories, running and valve gear was salvaged and used on other locomotives.

490 Series

K-37 Steam locomotive #493 in Silverton Yard

The 490 series or K-37 locomotives were part of a class of thirty standard gauge class 190 (later, class C-41) 2-8-0 engines built in 1902 for the D&RG by Baldwin Locomotive Works. In 1928 and 1930 ten of the C-41s were rebuilt at the Rio Grande’s Burnham Shops in Denver into narrow gauge 2-8-2s. The D&SNG operated only one K-37. #497 was rebuilt in 1984 and operated for seven years. It is the only K-37 to go to Silverton. It was later determined that the trailing truck was having trouble negotiating the curves in the Animas Canyon. The D&SNG traded 497 to the C&TS for K-36 #482. This trade was mutually beneficial for both railroads as it gave the C&TS a fully operational locomotive, giving in exchange a locomotive that had never run, and likely would never operate under C&TS ownership. The D&SNG capitalized on the opportunity of getting a K-36 class engine, viewed by many as one of the best steam locomotive classes ever built on any gauge. Numbers 493 and 498 are owned by the D&SNG, but are not operational. 499 was included in the 1981 purchase from the D&RGW as well, and was stored in Durango until 1999 when it was cosmetically restored and traded for long out of service locomotive 486 which had been on display at the Royal Gorge since the early 1960s.

Diesel engines

Diesels were first introduced to the Durango Yard in the 1960s with diesel locomotive #50. Number 50 is now at the Colorado Railroad Museum in Golden, Colorado. The United States Transportation Corps. also had a six-axle narrow gauge diesel locomotive (#3000) for trial use in Durango in the 1950s which saw limited use.

The D&SNG currently operates three diesel engines, with a fourth under tentative restoration as of 2009. Narrow gauge diesel engines are just as rare as any other narrow gauge equipment. All of the diesel engines of the D&SNG are of center cab style, where the cab straddles the center of the locomotive. Below are the diesel engines currently used by the D&SNG:

  1. Hotshot #1 is a 50-ton center cab engine built in 1957, was acquired from Arkansas Limestone Railroad. During the 2002 Missionary Ridge Fire, the D&SNG voluntarily shut down steam service. To help continue service Hotshot pulled coaches out along the highline from Rockwood. Currently in service.
  2. Big Al #7 is a 87-ton center cab engine built in 1975 and was originally Algoma Steel #7, from Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. Big Al is named after the owner of the D&S, Allen C. Harper.
  3. Diesel engine #9 was acquired in March 2006 and is a 92-ton center cab diesel.
  4. Diesel engine #11 was built by US Steel with General Electric parts. It was acquired in March 2006 and is a 98-ton center cab diesel. Currently in service.
  • RB-1 (railbus) was built in 1987-88 winter. Originally numbered 1001 and was named Tamarron. It could seat 32 people, had its own a baggage compartment and restroom, and had a 300-horsepower (220 kW) six-cylinder Caterpillar engine. This unit was intended for use on the Animas River Railway, and when that operation shut down was found being used as a switch engine in the Durango yard. Years later it was put into revenue service during the 2002 Missionary Ridge Fire however it is currently not being operated.

Operating practice and route description

Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad
Head station
Small bridge over water
Mineral Creek
Bridge over water
Animas River
Small bridge over water
Deer Park Creek
Small bridge over water
Elk Creek
Bridge over water
Animas River
Straight track Unknown BSicon "BUILDINGl"
Needleton Water Tank
Stop on track
Bridge over water
Animas River
Stop on track
Small bridge over water
Grasshopper Creek
Small bridge over water
Tank Creek
Small bridge over water
Canyon Creek
Bridge over water
Animas River
Small bridge over water
Elbert Creek
Unknown BSicon "AKRZu"
U.S. Route 550
Stop on track
Level crossing
Trimble Lane]]
Level crossing
36th Street
Level crossing
32nd Street
Small bridge over water
Junction Creek
Unknown BSicon "HALFVIADUCTl1"
Bridge over water
Huck Finn Pond
Bridge over water
15th Street Bridge
Unknown BSicon "KMW"
Durango Yard
Level crossing
U.S. Route 550
End station

The railroad runs 45 miles (72 km) from the Durango yard to Silverton, crossing the Animas River five times throughout the trip. Once trains reach Silverton and unload passengers, the train is turned on the wye, backs uptown to pick up returning passengers, and makes the trip back to Durango. One way scheduled trains take 3½ hours to run the 45 miles (72 km) each way, with a 2¼ hour layover in Silverton.

A train departing Durango generally takes about one hour between the crew arriving and the train departing. Brakemen inspect the train for cleanliness and required tools for the day, including a flagging kit and marker lamps for the rear of the train. The conductor will sign in his crew and obtain passenger lists and track reports to deliver to his crew. The engineer and fireman will inspect the locomotive and prepare it for the day's trip, making sure all machinery is lubricated and in proper condition, and no last minute repairs are needed. The fireman will ensure proper coal and water is in the tender, and make sure lubricating oil is on supply and that automatic lubrication is working properly; he will also clean the cab and hose off the engine and tender of ash and dust.

Once the engine is ready, the locomotive will be pulled onto the mainline, and backed up, working the engine against the brakes to check braking capability, and also to clean the smokebox and cylinders of condensation, and work the cylinders to warm them up for lubrication. The head brakeman will hook the locomotive up to the train, and the car shop will then assist the crew by performing brake tests with the engineer.

Scheduled trains on the Durango & Silverton operate on authority by timetable, though on occasion may be annulled for special trains or other circumstances. A train leaving Durango will depart at 5 mph (8 km/h) until the train is off the platform, then advance to 10 mph (16 km/h) until leaving yard limits, where track speed is 15 mph (24 km/h). The 15th Street bridge is just east of the Durango yard limits, and maintenance-of-way crews also have a storage area here, where track patrolmen will inspect the train rolling by. The grade is fairly flat until 32nd Street, where a small hill will have the engine work a little until 36th Street. The train will then roll downgrade about 14 miles (0.40 km) and use that to accelerate to 20 mph (32 km/h), which is the track speed between 36th St. and Hermosa. Home Ranch is the first siding past Durango, however a new wye is to be built just east of here to turn trains for the Polar Express in the near future. As the train runs through the valley, it is traveling on the longest tangent on the railroad, since most of the railroad meanders through the canyon following the river. Motorists can drive alongside the train through here and watch the engine work harder and harder as it starts to climb towards Hermosa. Passing Trimble Lane, the engine will start to pick up some work as the grade stiffens. A scheduled train takes 40 minutes to reach Hermosa from Durango.

Hermosa has a small maintenance-of-way yard and siding, as well as the first water tank to fill the engines tender. Doubleheaded trains will often be put together here, with the helper running light to Hermosa ahead of the train, take on water, and then await the arrival of the train with the road engine spotting itself at the tank and taking on water. After a brake test, the train will then take on the 30 minute, 2.5% climb between Hermosa and Rockwood. As the train climbs away from the valley, passengers will notice the locomotives working hard to pull the train through the many curves that now define the railroad. An hour after leaving Durango the train passes under US Highway 550 and slows to 10 mph (16 km/h) to traverse the "mini-highline", a rock shelf where the track follows the edge of a small cliff, and then picks up speed again through the meadow at Shalona. This is the last grade crossing the railroad encounters until Silverton. Slowing again after the crossing, the train winds around another rock face above Shalona Lake, with Rockwood being just around the next curve. Rockwood has a short wye and siding, and is also the first flagstop on the line. Being an hour and ten minutes by rail from Durango, some passengers lodging nearby opt to board the train here instead of driving all the way to town. The grade tops off for awhile and the helper engine on doubleheaded trains will be cut off here and run ahead light to Tank Creek. As the train enters the narrow rock cut, it becomes the only ground transportation into the Animas Canyon. Passengers immediately notice the slow pace of the train as it winds onto the "highline", a famous section of the railroad where the train crawls along the face of high cliffs. The engine crew will usually blow down the engine on the bridge at MP 471.2 to clean sediment from the boiler and the fireman will look back on his side of the train for a highball from the rear brakeman, indicating the rear of the train has cleared the bridge and the engineer can pick up speed to 15 mph (24 km/h), the track speed the rest of the way to Silverton. The roadbed closely follows the Animas River from now on, and the grade fluctuates quite a bit between here and Cascade Canyon. Tacoma is the next flagstop and the railroad has another siding here. At MP 474.5 is the Tank Creek water tank, and engines will stop here for water. The fireman will top off the tender, taking about 4,000 US gallons (3,331 imp gal; 15,142 l), while the engineer oils around the engine and inspects machinery and bearings. On doubleheaded trains, the helper locomotive will then rejoin the train and perform another brake test.

From Tank Creek, trains only travel about 1 mile (1.6 km) before reaching Tall Timber Resort. Another mile and the train is traveling on a very narrow rock wall before rounding the curve and climbing into Cascade. Cascade is two hours and 26 miles (42 km) by rail from Durango, and in the winter trains are turned here on the wye due to avalanche chutes further up the railroad. After crossing the Animas a third time, the railroad curves to the east and heads towards Needleton. The grade through here tends to stair-step between short steep 3% grades and longer gradual 2-2.5% while winding through many reverse curves. Unlike the mainline that was constructed by the D&RG before arriving in Durango, the Silverton branch was laid without compensated curves, and the trains can really drag into some of the reverse curves against the engine. A 10 mph (16 km/h) speed restriction covers a sharp curve above a rock face at MP 481.5.

Needleton flag stop is roughly 12 miles (0.80 km) from the Needleton siding, and another 14 miles (0.40 km) beyond that to the Needleton water tank. Trains stopping at Needleton flag stop are for backpackers usually hiking up to the Chicago Basin, as well as occasional homesteaders who have cabins in the forest. Locomotives have a hard time starting the trains from a stop here as well as leaving from the tank stop, indicated by the layer of sand on the tracks and the frequency of the valves centering up, forcing the engineer to back the locomotive up a foot or so before trying to start forward again. On the westbound trains, the tender only needs about 1,000 US gallons (833 imp gal; 3,785 l) to be topped off before proceeding to Silverton, however, the steepest grade lies ahead. The track out of Needleton is around 2.5%, with a little ease around MP 486, but then quickly steepens again, topping off 4% at MP 488. From MP 488 to Elk Park the fireman finally gets a break on the wider, sweeping curves and flatter grade.

Elk Park is the last siding, wye, and flagstop before Silverton. Not as popular as Needleton for hikers, Elk Park is where the railroad crosses the Colorado Trail and it often serves as a hunting camp in season. Also past Elk Park, the railroad is among some of the highest concentration of avalanche chutes in the state. The Snowshed Slide once had a snowshed, until burning and leaving behind remnants of what once gave the slide its name. The grade has one decent pull approaching Snowshed, but afterwards is pretty easy the rest of the way to Silverton, and also has longer, sweeping, slightly elevated curves which allow for smooth running. The engineer will blow a warning whistle approaching the sharp curve at Cataract, the narrowest section of the entire canyon, before opening up to the valley that holds Silverton.

The railroad crosses the Animas one last time before entering yard limits. The train slows to 10 mph (16 km/h) and blows a long station call on the whistle before passing the depot. After the train arrives, passengers deboard the train and the crew backs the train down to the wye for servicing. An ashpit was recently constructed for use and to aid in heavier repairs if needed, which do happen on occasion. After shoving the train uptown for boarding passengers, the engineer will oil and inspect the engine once again and the crew will perform another brake test for the return trip to Durango.

Trains will almost always use straight air unless conditions or equipment don't allow. The engineer won't need to use steam for power to move the train until just east of Tacoma, and after climbing to Rockwood, can drift again all the way to Trimble Lane in the valley near Durango. As far as water, trains coming from Silverton will top off again at Needleton on the return, and Cascade trains won't need water for the return.

Steam locomotives after arrival in Durango are cut from the trains for immediate servicing, which can make the shop crew pretty busy in the summer with four or five locomotives being tended. Servicing includes coaling up the tender, adding wood pellets for fuel for overnight stoking, refilling the sand supply, cleaning or dropping the fire depending on the schedule for the locomotive, and then spotting the engine in the roundhouse to apply grease, shoot bearings, refilling oilers, and replinishing water. Running 90-mile (140 km) trips each day in the summer with the heavy trains will also cause damage to the running gear and require heavier repairs at times, which the roundhouse is capable of doing.

The railroad uses a couple of small diesel switching locomotives for work trains and everyday yard switching to allow the steam locomotives to enter the shop areas sooner. The use of wood pellets for overnight fuel, as well as diesel switchers are a result of constant complaints from local citizens regarding the smoke from the coal fired engines. Though the railroad has been present in the town since its founding, the D&SNG has tried its best to appease the locals.

D&SNG rolling stock

The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad operates over 50 pieces of rolling stock. Some of the cars are the oldest passenger cars in existence.

Concession cars

Like most of the coaches on the D&SNG, the concession cars are good examples on how coaches were renumbered and rebuilt several times by the D&RGW.

  • Concession car 64 was originally mail-baggage 64 built in 1889. In 1983 it was purchased from the Black Hills Central Railroad. 64 returned to service in 1984 as a concession car.
  • Concession car 126 was originally baggage car 27. It was renumbered 126 in 1886. It was converted to a coach-snack bar by the D&RGW in 1963 then reconverted in 1979 to a coach. It was reconverted to a full concession car by the D&SNG in 1982.
  • Concession car 212 was originally coach 20 built in 1879. In 1887 it was rebuilt into a combination coach-baggage car and numbered 215. In 1942, 215 had been sold to a Mexican railway. Then the D&RGW realized that it was larger than another combination car 212. The numbers of the car were switched and the smaller car was sent to Mexico. In 1964 converted to a coach-snack bar by the D&RGW, then to a 48 passenger coach in 1979. In 1982 it was converted to a snack bar car by the D&SNG. Then in 1986 it was converted to a full concession car.
  • Concession car 566 was originally mail car 14 built in 1882. Around 1888 it was rebuilt into excursion car 566. In July 1904 it was renumbered 0566. Then it was switched to work service in 1914. It was rebuilt to its original appearance as a postal car by the D&SNG. It was then given its old excursion car number of 566 and is now used as a concession car.


The D&SNG operates one combination car 213 named Bitter Root Mine, it was previously named Home Ranch and was built in 1983 by the D&SNG. It has a hydraulic lift for passengers in wheelchairs.

The D&SNG operates several other coaches:

  1. 257 Shenandoah, built in 1880
  2. 270 Pinkerton, built in 1880
  3. 291 King Mine, built in 1881
  4. 311 McPhee, built in 1881
  5. 319 Needleton, built in 1882
  6. 323 Animas City, built in 1887
  7. 327 Durango, built in 1887
  8. 330 Cascade, built in 1963
  9. 331 Trimble, built in 1963
  10. 332 La Plata, built in 1964
  11. 333 Tacoma, built in 1964
  12. 334 Hermosa, built in 1964
  13. 335 Elk Park, built in 1964
  14. 336 Rockwood, built in 1964
  15. 337 San Juan, built in 1964-has the same name as coach 312

Cinco Animas B-2

Built in 1883, the Cinco Animas was originally an immigrant sleeper. Immigrant sleepers had very few amenities and had little consideration for passenger comfort. The original Cinco Animas could seat up to thirty passengers. It was turned into a business car in 1913. In 1963 it was purchased by the Cinco Animas Corporation, where it received its present name. Then in 1982 the Cinco Animas was sold to the D&S. It runs daily throughout the summer.

Nomad B-3

Built in 1878, the Nomad was originally named Fairplay. In 1886, it was rebuilt as Business Car N. It is reportedly the favorite car of D&RG president William Jackson Palmer. The Fairplay has hosted Presidents William H Taft, Ulysses S Grant and Theodore Roosevelt. While being owned by several parties between 1951–1982 the Fairplay was renamed the Nomad. It was acquired by the D&S in 1982. Today it is the oldest private railroad coach still in service in the United States. It runs daily throughout the summer.

General Palmer B-7

The General Palmer was built in 1880 as a business car for the D&RG. In later years it fell into disrepair. It was restored in 2001 at $250,000 by the D&S. Its modern amenities include internet service and a twenty inch flat paneled television. The General Palmer is exclusively used by owner Allen Harper, his family and guests.

San Juan 312

Built by the D&RG in 1887, it had clerestory roof and bullnose ends. It was finished in ash and seated forty-six. It was rebuilt in 1937 at the Alamosa shops. Vestuable ends, train-line steam heat, electric lights, and deluxe Heywood-Wakefield reclining coach seats for 24 passenger were installed. The D&S named coach 312 the Silverton. In the winter of 2007–2008 it was rebuilt with overstuffed seating for in a wide three across arrangement and had its name changed to San Juan. It runs during the Summer time.

Alamosa 350

Built in 1880, it was originally named the Hildago as Horton chair car number 25. It was changed to car 403 in 1885. It was then rebuilt into an office living car for members of the Valuation Survey in 1919. Valuation Survey was inventorying the entire railroad property after it was returned to the D&RGW after World War 1. In 1924 it was converted into a parlor-smoker car. After a rebuild in 1937 it became a parlor-buffet car named Alamosa. The car had a closed vestibule, with steam heat, electric lights and seats for fourteen passengers. In 1957 it was converted for coach service. It was renumbered 350 in 1959. In 1981 it was purchased by the D&S and converted to a parlor car and seats twenty-five people. There was another car with the same name, that was deystroyed in a derailment on the Rio Grande Southern. It runs daily throughout the summer.

Prospector 630

Was built in 1984 as a coach and was named Hunt. In 2009 it became a family upscale coach. The Prospector features comfortable table and chair style seating. The ceiling of the Prospector features an enlarged route map, making it easy for passengers to follow the train's progress along the route.

Tall Timber Legend 631 & Tall Timber Legacy 632

631 was built in 1985 and named the North Star. 632 was built in 1986 and named Teft. Both cars were built as general passenger cars to help with the increase in passengers. In 2009 the cars were converted with overstuffed seats. They are used mainly to take passengers to Tall Timber to go zip lining.

Open observation gondolas

Open Observation Gondolas 400-402 were built in 1963 with being equipping them with passenger car trucks, steel roofs, tile floors and tramway seats. 403-405 were built for the 1967 season on The Silverton. Between 1982 and 1985 the D&SNG built Open Observation cars 411 and 412. Open Observation cars 406-409 and 413-416 were built between 1982 and 1986

  • #400- #405 and #411- #412, are former standard gauge boxcars built in 1916
  • #406- #409 and #413- #416, are former standard gauge stock cars built in 1937

Silver Vista 313

The original Silver Vista was built in 1947 by the D&RGW. It was a popular glass-topped observation car and the only one of its kind. The original Silver Vista was destroyed by a fire in Alamosa in 1953. Because of its popularity, there has been speculation that the D&RGW destroyed it on purpose to drive revenue down so they could abandon the line from Silverton to Antonito. The recreation of the Silver Vista was built in 2006. It runs daily throughout the summer.

Rio Grande 410

Built in the winter of 1987-88, the Rio Grande was originally railbus trailer 1002 and was painted red. It was used with the Animas Canyon Railway diesel rail-bus. It was stored from 1992–1997, until it was rebuilt as an open observation car 313. It was given number 313 because it resembled the Silver Vista. After the Silver Vista was built in 2006, it became open observation car 410. Then again in the winter of 2006–2007 it was rebuilt into an open air observation car with comfortable and large overstuffed seats for a more expansive view. It runs daily during the summer.


Caboose #0505 was built in 1886 and is stocked with provisions to provide shelter and food.

Caboose #0540 was built in 1881 and is a mini-warehouse, carrying the most common tools and supplies. Is used by Maintenance of Way

Caboose 0500

Is 17 feet (5.2 m) long, and was built in 1886. It was originally known as D&RG #1. In 1950 it was sold to Bob Richardson, then again in 1987 to a business in Cripple Creek. In 1993 it was acquired by the D&S and was restored to its original condition. It is available for charter and can hold up to eight people.

Rail Camp Car 3681

Rail Camp Car 3681 is an ex-D&RGW boxcar. It was rebuilt by the D&S in 1984 with a kitchen, a bathroom and beds. It is then pulled to Cascade Canyon Wye for elegant camping. It can hold up to groups of eight people.

Coaches not in service

  • Mail Baggage Car 66 was built in 1887. For some years it was the base of operations for the Animas River Railway in Rockwood, Colorado. 66 served as the office, ticket window and waiting room for the railway. It was then moved to Hermosa, Colorado as the maintenance of way office.
  • Mail Baggage Car 119 was built in 1882 and is currently not in service.
  • Coach #460 is the only narrow gauge tourist-sleeper remaining from a group built in 1886 for the D&RG. In the early 1900s it was assigned to work service and was used on a D&RGW wrecking train as late as 1957. Then it was sold to the Black Hills Central Railroad in South Dakota. Then in 1983 the D&SNG purchased coach 460. It has yet to be restored.


The D&SNG operates two museums, the D&SNG Museum[10] and the Silverton Freight Yard Museum. They both feature historic locomotives and railway equipment used on the D&RGW line.

D&SNG Museum

Opened in 1998, the D&SNG Museum is a tribute to railroading nationally and southwest Colorado. The museum is located in the Durango roundhouse. Half the roundhouse is used for the steam engines and the other half is for the museum. The museum features memorabilia from the D&RGW and other railroads. It also features many artifacts from the Durango and Silverton areas. There is an HO train layout in the museum. It depicts a narrow gauge railroad similar to the D&RGW. There is also a movie coach that was used in the filming of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid where the railroads informational and educational films are featured.

Class 70 Engine No. 42

On display in the Durango and Silverton RR Museum, Engine 42 was one of 6 Class 70 2-8-0 locomotives built by Baldwin in 1887 for the D&RG. The engine weighs 35 tons and pulls with 17,100 lbs of tractive effort. It was originally numbered 420. In November 1916 the engine was sold to the Rio Grande Southern and was used till the RGS was dismantled in 1952. Engine 42 and a caboose running from Grady, located east of Mancos, Colorado, to Durango was the last train movement on the RGS. In 1953 the engine was sold to the Narrow Gauge Motel in Alamosa. In 1958 the 42 was sold to Magic Mountain Amusement Park in Golden, Colorado, where it was converted to burn fuel oil and operated for a short time. In 1969 it was put on display in Monument, Colorado in front of a bank. In 1971 engine 42 returned to Golden as a restaurant display at Heritage Square. Finally in 1983 it was purchased and brought to Durango. It has never been restored to operating condition. It is on display in the museum.

Baggage Car No. 127

Was originally flat car 6630. It was rebuilt in 1968 as a baggage car for the film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.[citation needed] No. 127 was the third concession car built by the D&SNG. It saw limited service and acted as a backup concession car. No. 127 is now used as a movie theater in the museum.

Silverton Freight Yard Museum

The Silverton Freight Yard Museum was opened in 1999 and is located at the Silverton depot and rail yard. On display are outfit cars, some equipped with kitchen facilities and Side-dumped gondolas. Engine 493 is part of a static display of a freight train. In the Silverton depot are local artifacts.

Animas River Railway

Beginning May 7, 1988 a new diesel-hydraulic motorcar and trailer “railbus” began making trips out of Rockwood, Colorado up the Animas canyon. The new company Animas River Railway was incorporated by the D&SNG, in order to preserve the integrity of its own claim of “100% coal-fired steam locomotives”. The railbus hauled hikers and fisherman into the canyon from Rockwood. Operations for the Animas River Railway were run out of Rockwood. Former mail baggage car 66 was used as the ticket window, office and waiting room for the railway.

Built in 1987-88 winter, motorcar 1001 was named Tamarron. It could seat 32 people and had a 300-horsepower six-cylinder caterpillar engine. It also had a baggage compartment and restroom. The trailer 1002 could seat 48 in longitudinal seats.

1988 schedule

The first railbus trip left at 7:30 a.m. on May 7 for Elk Park. There were 12:30 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. trips to Cascade Canyon. The season for the Animas River Railway was supposed to last from May 7 through October 30, but lasted until September 4 due to mechanical problems.

1989 schedule

The railbus was repaired and began operations on May 6, 1989. A 12:01 p.m. trip for Cascade Canyon ran until October 29. From May 27 through September 15 Elk Park trips ran at 7:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.

1990 schedule

The schedule for the Animas River Railway remained the same. The last excursion of the Animas River Railway was on September 23 from Rockwood to Cascade. Patronage never met expectations and has not operated since.

2002 schedule

During the 2002 Missionary Ridge Fire, the D&SNG voluntarily shut down steam service.[citation needed] To help continue service, motorcar 1001 now RB-1 and trailer 1002 now 313 took people out to the highline from Silverton.[citation needed]

Visiting equipment

Just as narrow gauge equipment and parts are rare, narrow gauge railroads are rare these days too. When narrow gauge pieces of equipment come back to life there are very few places in the United States where they can run. Many of these pieces run during the railroads annual Railfest held every August. Below are some pieces of narrow gauge equipment that visit the D&SNG.

D&RGW No. 315

D&RGW No.315 is a C-18 locomotive, built in 1895 by Baldwin Locomotive Works. It originally was owned by the Florence and Cripple Creek Railroad as No.3. It was then bought by the D&RG and became No.424 and after the railroad was reorganized into D&RGW in 1924 it became No.315. Around 1941, 315 made its way to Durango and became a yard switcher. It worked around Durango until 1949. To save it from being scrapped, it was leased by the City of Durango as a display. When the D&RGW abandoned the line to Durango, 315 was donated to the Chamber of Commerce in 1968. In 1986 it was put on display at Santa Rita Park. Ownership of 315 was changed from the Chamber of Commerce to the City of Durango. It was restored to operating condition in 2007 by the Durango Railroad Historical Society, which operates the locomotive occasionally on both the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad and the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad.

Casey Jones

The Casey Jones railbus was built in 1915 out of a Model T and is a predecessor of the Galloping Goose. It was originally designed to be an ambulance servicing the Sunnyside Mine in Eureka, Colorado. It was often used by mine officials to commute to Silverton. It has room for 11 passengers. The Casey Jones is owned by the San Juan Historical Society.[11] In the summer months it is on a siding near the Silverton Depot and in the winter it is on display at the D&SNG Museum in Durango.

Galloping Goose No.5

Galloping Goose No. 5 went into service on June 8, 1933 and was built by the Rio Grande Southern. It was built with a 1928 Pierce-Arrow limousine body and running gear. It was rebuilt in 1946/47, using a World War II surplus GMC gasoline truck engine and a Wayne Corporation school bus body. In 1950, the freight/mail compartment was converted to carry 20 additional passengers for sightseeing trips. After the RGS was scrapped in 1953 Galloping Goose No.5 came to rest in Dolores, Colorado. Galloping Goose No. 5 was completely restored to operating condition in 1998 by the Galloping Goose Historical Society[12] in Dolores, Colorado. It visits the D&SNG and Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad.

In popular culture

The train is the subject of the song The Silverton, by C.W. McCall.[citation needed]


  • The Silverton line was featured in the 1950 Technicolor western A Ticket to Tomahawk. The film's scenery and machinery was complemented by a brief bit-player appearance by Marilyn Monroe. The film is out of print as of August 2006.
  • 1957, James Stewart film Night Passage. Especially interesting is the train traversing the "High Line" above the Animas River Gorge.


The D&SNG is the train in the beginning of the 2006 movie The Prestige

See also


  1. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2009-03-13. http://nrhp.focus.nps.gov/natreg/docs/All_Data.html. 
  2. ^ "Durango-Silverton Narrow-Gauge Railroad". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. http://tps.cr.nps.gov/nhl/detail.cfm?ResourceId=151&ResourceType=District. Retrieved 2007-10-15. 
  3. ^ a b c d e Farewell, R.C. (March 1991). "Narrow Gauge in a 'Grande Tradition: Riding the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad". Pacific RailNews, pp. 36-41. Interurban Press.
  4. ^ Athearn, Robert G. "Rebel of the Rockies" Yale University Press 1962 pgs. 10,15.
  5. ^ Athearn, Robert G. "Rebel of the Rockies" Yale University Press 1962. pgs 241-243
  6. ^ "American Heritage Railways - Contact Info". http://americanheritagerailways.com/contact.html. 
  7. ^ The Pocket List of Railroad Officials. UBM Global Trade. 2010. p. D-16. 
  8. ^ Official Roster No. 11 of the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad System. Denver: The Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad System. April 1, 1923. 
  9. ^ a b c d Steamlocomotive.info: Schenectady Locomotive Works Engine List
  10. ^ Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad and Museum Official site and Museums.
  11. ^ "San Juan Historical Society". http://www.silvertonhistoricsociety.org. 
  12. ^ "Galloping Goose Historical Society". http://www.gallopinggoose5.com/index.html. 
  • Royem, Robert T. (2002). America's Railroad: The Official Guidebook of the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. Published by the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, First Edition 2002.
  • Royem, Robert T. (2007). America’s Railroad: The Official Guidebook of the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. Published by the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, Second Edition 2007.
  • Osterwald, Doris B. (2001). Cinders & Smoke: A mile by mile guide for the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. Denver, Colorado: Golden Bell Press, Eighth Edition, Thirty-fourth printing, Western Guideways, Ltd., 2001. ISBN 0-931788-80-3
  • Danneman, Herbert (2000). Colorado Rail Annual No. 24: A ticket to Ride the Narrow Gauge. Golden, Colorado: Published and distributed by the Colorado Railroad Museum. ISBN 0-91865-24-6
  • Brown, Michael (2011). The Silverton Branch of the D&RGW and The Mears Short Lines. Published and distributed by lulu press. First edition 2011.

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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