Love This Article About The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad

Pagosa Springs, Colorado

October 17, 2020

Somebody nailed this article on the railroad. From Wikipedia:

The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, often abbreviated as the D&SNG, is a 3 foot narrow-gauge heritage railroad that operates on 45.2 miles of track between Durango and Silverton, 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 opened in 1882 by the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad (D&RG) to transport silver and gold ore mined from the San Juan Mountains. The line was an extension of the D&RG narrow-gauge line from Antonito, Colorado to Durango. The last train to operate into Durango from Antonito was in December 1968. The states of New Mexico and Colorado purchased 64 miles of trackage between Antonito and Chama, New Mexico in 1970.  Today the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad operates on that track. Trackage between Chama and Durango was 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 US 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.

Some rolling stock dates back to the 1880s. Trains operate from Durango to the Cascade Wye in the winter months and Durango–Silverton during the summer months. The Durango depot was built in January 1882 and has been preserved in its original form.

William Jackson Palmer (1836–1908) was a former Union General (serving in 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 railroad southward from Denver to El Paso, Texa (see Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad). In 1871, the Denver & Rio Grande Railway began to lay rails south from Denver. Palmer and his associates had agreed that the choice of 3 fott 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.  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 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.  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.

The Silverton

After World War II, domestic tourism began to grow across the country and the Silverton branch of the railroad would benefit. Bolstered by national exposure via Hollywood movies being filmed along the line in the late 1940s, the railroad created The Silverton, a summer-only train service on June 24, 1947.   A short time later, the railroad adorned a locomotive and four coaches with a colorful yellow 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 during the 1950s, The Silverton operated as a mixed train.

By the 1960s, a modernized 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 Interstate Commerce Commission 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. As ridership continued to grow, the D&RGW operated a second train to Silverton on certain days.

The 1970s

Since 1971, the Silverton branch and nearby Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad were the only remnants of the Rio Grande's once extensive narrow-gauge system.  During the late 1970s, the D&RGW was actively trying to sell the Silverton branch, and in 1979, Charles Bradshaw, a Florida citrus grower, offered the railroad a legitimate opportunity to divest itself of the now isolated route. On October 5, 1980, The Silverton made its last run under D&RGW ownership and after operating a work train the following day, the railroad finally concluded its narrow-gauge train operations, bringing to a close an era that began 110 years earlier with its narrow-gauge railroad from Denver to Colorado Springs.

Present Day

In June 2018, the railroad shut down for several weeks due to a wildfire, named the "416 Fire", which was fought by two air tankers, six helicopters and some 400 firefighters on the ground.  An estimated 54,129 acres of the San Juan National Forest were burned, with losses estimated at more than $31 million. Given the fire risk from coal cinder-sparked wildfires, the railroad's owner plans to invest several million dollars to replace coal-power with oil-power for their steam locomotives and acquire two new diesel powered locomotives. The railroad was suspected of sparking the blaze and some area businesses and residents filed a civil lawsuit against the railroad and its owner in mid-September 2018.  The railroad is currently aiming to have at least half of their operational steam locomotives converted to oil-power.

In March 2020, the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak in the country severely affected the US. For the safety and protection of guests and employees, D&SNG suspended operations until June 23, 2020.

New Ownership

The D&SNG was founded by Charles Bradshaw Jr., of Florida, with the intent of purchasing the right-of-way and equipment while expanding the infrastructure and passenger revenue. His plans were fulfilled with the March 25, 1981, acquisition of the D&RGW's 45-mile Silverton branch and all of its structures and rolling stock.

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 1881 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.

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.

D&SNG Engines

As of 2020, the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad operates coal and oil-fired steam engines and diesel engines.


The steam-powered locomotives used today on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad were built during the 1920s. There are three classes, K-28, K-36 and K-37, which are all 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 the tractive effort (pulling force) of the locomotives in thousands of pounds. The tractive effort of K-28s is rated at 27,500 pounds-force and the tractive effort of a K-36 is a 36,200 pounds-force. The weight of a K-28 with a full tender is 254,500 pounds and a K-36 weighs 286,600 pounds with a full tender.

470 series

The 470 series or 2-8-2 K-28 class locomotives were ten engines designed for freight service along the D&RG.[15] They were built by the Schenectady Locomotive Works[16] 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&SNG. 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.

The &SNG announced in June 2016 that they were going to restore 476 to operating condition and place 478 in the museum.

473 is undergoing a firebox rebuild and conversion to oil as of February 2020. However, due to COVID-19, it is currently expected to return to service in 2021.

The 480 series or K-36 class 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 D&RGW. The 480s were used for freight-hauling throughout the D&RGW 3 ft (914 mm) narrow-gauge network. The "36" stands for 36,200 lbf (161.026 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 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 engine crew.

D&SNG owns four K-36s: Nos. 480, 481, 482 and 486, all of which are operational. The Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad owns engines 483, 484, 487, 488 and 489. Locomotive No. 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


The 490 series or K-37 class 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 3 ft (914 mm) narrow-gauge 2-8-2s. The D&SNG operated only one K-37. #497 was rebuilt in 1984 and operated for seven years. At the time #497 operated on the D&SNG, it was the only K-37 to go to Silverton under its own power. It was later determined that the trailing truck was having trouble negotiating the curves in the Animas Canyon. For this reason, the D&SNG traded #497 to the C&TS for K-36 class #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. Numbers 493 and 498 are owned by the D&SNG, but as of 2020, #498 is not operational. On May 4, 2016, K-37 #493 was hauled to Durango from Silverton by K-36 #481 to be transported to the Colorado Railroad Museum in Golden, Colorado, on a 10-year lease, where they would restore it to operational condition and run it for those 10 years and then return it to the D&SNGRR. However, plans were cancelled and #493 sat outside the Durango roundhouse with an uncertain future for sometime, until 2018 when she was put in the roundhouse for restoration. It is estimated it could take up to two years to finish the restoration. #493 is being restored to use oil vs. coal. This will allow it to operate when the coal fired engines cannot, since oil fired engines do not emit cinders. #493 ran under its own power for the first time on January 24, 2020. K-37 #498 rests in the Durango yard near the turntable without a tender and with no plans to restore it, given its deteriorated condition. #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 K-36 class #486, which had been on display and out of operation at Royal Gorge since the early 1960s.


Diesel engines

Diesels were first introduced to the Durango Yard in the 1960s with Diesel locomotive #50. Today, #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.

Diesel engine #9 was first acquired in March 2006 and is a 92-ton center cab Diesel. #9 was later traded to the Georgetown Loop Railroad in March 2017 for Diesel engine #1203. It is currently in service on the GLRX.

The D&SNG currently operates four Diesel engines. Narrow-gauge Diesel engines are just as rare as any other narrow-gauge equipment. All of the Diesel engines of the D&SNG, except for #1203, are of the center cab style, where the cab straddles the center of the locomotive. Below are the Diesel engines currently used by the D&SNG:

Diesel engine #1, nicknamed the "Hotshot", 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.

Diesel engine #7, nicknamed the "Big Al", is an 87-ton center cab engine built in 1975 and was originally Algoma Steel #7, from Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. Big Al is named after the owner of the D&S, Allen C. Harper. Currently in service.

Diesel engine #11 was built by U.S. Steel with General Electric parts. It was acquired in March 2006 and is a 98-ton center cab Diesel. Currently in service.

Diesel engine #1203 was built by H.K. Porter in January 1946. It was acquired in March 2017 from the Georgetown Loop Railroad in trade for Diesel engine #9. Currently in service.

RB-1 (railbus) was built in the winter of 1987–1988. It was originally numbered 1001 and was named Tamarron. It could seat 32 people, had its own baggage compartment and restroom, and had a 300-horsepower (220 kW) six-cylinder Caterpillar Diesel engine. This unit was intended for use on the Animas River Railway, and when that operation was shut down, it was found being used as a switcher in the Durango yard. Years later, it was put into revenue service during the 2002 Missionary Ridge Fire, but it is currently not being operated.

In April 2020, it was announced that four ALCO Diesels have been purchased from the White Pass & Yukon Route[17] in Skagway, Alaska. The first two Diesels (Nos. 101 and 107) were recently delivered between late August and September 2020 while the other two Diesels (numbers to be announced later) are currently expected to be delivered in 2021.

In The Media

The train is the subject of the song The Silverton, by C. W. McCall.


1950, A Ticket to Tomahawk. An early western Technicolor film in which the scenery and machinery were complemented by a brief bit-player appearance by Marilyn Monroe. The film is out of print as of August 2006.

1952, Denver and Rio Grande starring Sterling Hayden.

1954, Siege at Red River starring Van Johnson 

1955, Run for Cover starring James Cagney. Train scenes shot at the "High Line" above the Animas River Gorge 

1956, Around the World in 80 Days. The cast included Andy Devine, Marlene Dietrich, Buster Keaton, Shirley MacLaine, George Raft, Cesar Romero, Frank Sinatra, and Red Skelton 

1957, Night Passage starring James Stewart. Especially interesting is the train traversing the "High Line" above the Animas River Gorge.

1969, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid starring Paul Newman, Robert Redford, and Katharine Ross. Famous "cliff jump" scene shot near Baker's Bridge on Animas River in upper Hermosa Valley.

1971, Support Your Local Gunfighter starring James Garner, Suzanne Pleshette, and Harry Morgan 

The Sons of Katy Elder, 1965 starring John Wayne, Dean Martin.


1988, The Tracker a made-for-television film starring Kris Kristofferson and distributed by HBO Films

1991, the railroad's own track was featured in a Lexus LS400 commercial.

2006, The Prestige starring Christian Bale. The train shown in the beginning of the film is the D&SNG

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