Mudslides, washouts force Durango & Silverton to modify service; could take weeks to repair

RELATED TOPICS: WEATHER | STEAM/PRESERVATION | COLORADO
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A washout on the Durango & Silverton.
Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad
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Workers for the Durango & Silverton inspect a washout on the railroad in Southwestern Colorado.
Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad
DURANGO, Colo. — Two days after a series of mudslides caused “significant” damage along its tracks, the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad announced it would resume operations with a modified schedule on Saturday.

Railroad officials are still assessing the damage from this week’s mudslides — the latest in a series of natural disasters to strike the narrow gauge railroad this summer — but note it could take weeks to re-open the line between Hermosa, Colo., and Rockwood.

Starting on Saturday, the D&SNG will bus passengers from Durango to Rockwood, where they will then board trains for the 27-mile trip to Silverton. Officials say the modified schedule will continue until at least Aug. 15. The railroad will still run two trains a day. The railroad is also suspending all wilderness access services for backpackers at its Needleton and Elk Park stops. General Manager John Harper tells Trains News Wire that because some people are rescheduling their canceled excursions for later in the year there is not enough room for backpackers. The railroad also wants to make sure that they don’t leave anyone behind should the line be closed again.

“We do not want to be in a position where we booked passengers for wilderness access, and then not be able to pick them up and return them to Durango because of service cancellations resulting from unsafe track or weather conditions,” Harper says.

In June, the D&SNG suspended regular operations for six weeks after a wildfire torched more than 50,000 acres near Hermosa, Colo. Then, last week, a series of mudslides closed the railroad for two days after a storm dropped heavy rain over the burned area. On Tuesday, another storm caused even more damage in the same area. Mudslides are common after large wildfires because the fire weakens the topsoil and plants' root systems, meaning the dirt cannot withstand heavy rains. Fires can also burn off plants and trees completely leaving nothing to hold soils in place.

Harper tells Trains News Wire that besides repairing the tracks, the railroad is looking at measures to protect them from future slides, which could be a problem until vegetation returns to the burned area. Among the ideas being considered is a retaining wall along certain segments of track between Rockwood and Hermosa.

Since June, the D&SNG has lost revenue from potentially 40,000 passengers. Reservations for August are down 40 percent because of the uncertainty of the railroad’s operations. Railroad officials estimate that Durango, Silverton and the surrounding communities have lost $34 million because of the shutdowns. Despite all that, Harper says the railroad is ready to make up lost ground this fall.

“These types of challenges will only make us stronger,” he says.
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