The C&TS – Back in Action

The Cumbres & Toltec Scenic is currently probably the best hope for preservation of Rio Grande-style narrow gauge railroading. During a normal season, they operate daily trains over the 64 miles between Antonito, CO, and Chama, NM, cresting the 10052-foot Cumbres Pass and tackling four percent grades. This season, however, has been anything but normal.

Starting back in May, the Federal Railroad Administration declared some of the roadbed around MP 319 and 316 to be unsound and in need of repair. This essentially severed the railroad into three pieces – the Chama end, the Antonito end, and Osier isolated in the middle between the points. As work neared completion to stabilize the roadbed at these two points, both National Forests slapped closure orders of questionable legality on the railroad due to the high fire danger this year. Since a large portion of the line operates through Rio Grande and Carson National Forests, this essentially shut down the railroad from 7-June-2002 through 16-July-2002. Already in need money, five weeks of closure hurt the operating company irreparably and in mid-July the Rio Grande Railway Preservation Corp. made it known that they would most likely not be able to recover to operate the line next year.

Both closure orders have now been lifted on the condition that the C&TS continue to provide heavy fire suppression along with its trains – tank cars of spraying water, the speeders following behind, and the noisy red fire tanker paralleling on Highway 17 out of Chama. Initially, on 16-July, the first runs ran just from Chama to Cumbres, and ridership wasn’t bad considering the shutdown. Then, a week later on 23-July, trips resumed from Chama to Osier, Tuesday-Saturday. At last, on 30-July, normal service resumed on Tuesday through Saturday from both ends of the railroad.

For those who would ask, “Why railfan instead of buying a ticket and riding?” the simple answer is I already hold a season pass – so ride, railfan, sit at home, the C&TS already has more money from me than they get in two normal years. I bought it during the depths of the shutdown as my way of showing support and putting revenues into the railroad during its darkest hours. While I’d intended to ride the train, I’m hoping to drag a few friends along when I do and put more revenue passengers on board. This time, it was just me and my camera – and the rain. There’s not much to say, so I’ll just let the photos and the captions tell the story.


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This work is copyright 2020 by Nathan D. Holmes, but all text and images are licensed and reusable under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license. Basically you’re welcome to use any of this as long as it’s not for commercial purposes, you credit me as the source, and you share any derivative works under the same license. I’d encourage others to consider similar licenses for their works.