Personal Projects, Photography, and Pointless Pontifications
The San Luis Express
On Thursday, 9-Feb-2006, the San Luis & Rio Grande Railroad ran a
special, promotional trip from Alamosa to La Veta, CO, to officially
announce their new tourist services that will be launched during the
summer of 2006. In cooperation with Don Shank of the Denver & Rio
Grande Historical Foundation – the organization that owns the Creede
Branch and is restoring FEC 4-6-2 148 – trains will run from Alamosa
over to La Veta, crossing the scenic and inaccessible Veta Pass area,
and also from Alamosa down to Antonito to complement and connect with
the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic. The La Veta run will be known as the
San Luis Express, and the connection down to Antonito will operate as
the Toltec Gorge Limited.
Thursday’s train consisted of two ex-Kennecott GP39-2s, ILSX 1390 and
1389 – along with High Iron Travel’s Caritas, an open-end observation
car that started off life as Frisco’s Pierre LeClede. On board were
four individuals key to bringing this dream to reality: Ed Ellis
(president of Iowa Pacific Holdings, LLC, the parent company of the
SL&RG), Don Shank (head of the Denver & Rio Grande Historical
Foundation and partner in the San Luis Express venture), Frank Turner
(president of the C&TS Management Corp – the group to be operating
the C&TS this year), and Bob Shank (who will manage the San Luis
Express operation). Also invited were a number of prominent local
individuals, as well as individuals from the press covering the event.
The morning started with speeches and a ribbon cutting ceremony at the
old Alamosa depot at 0900h. Concluded about thirty minutes later, the
invited guests climbed aboard for the three hour trip over the pass to
The La Veta town reception was nothing short of phenominal. Pulling
into town at 1242h, the train was greeted by around 400 residents and
interested individuals, many wearing red at the prompting of local
officials to mark a “red letter day”. (Sorry I couldn’t participate – I
got the press release, but I don’t own anything red…) The local
school band was out to play for the arrival, the fire department had
their trucks out on display, and there wasn’t a parking spot to be had
for nearly three blocks by the time I arrived. Estimates I’ve seen
after the fact put 400-500 people at the celebration. Once again, there
were a few speeches, followed by another ribbon cutting, followed by a
bit of singing and cheering by the crowd.
Once the crowd had thinned out in about an hour, the train was turned
on the wye and pointed back to Alamosa. Around 1430h, everyone was
back on board and the return trip got underway. The train made about
equal time heading back, taking 3:15 to return to Alamosa just slightly
after sunset. Upon arrival, the SL&RG’s usual operations were
evident, as the turn over to Walsenburg was in the yard just waiting to
leave as soon as the special cleared up.
Reportedly, when service starts up on May 24, the train will consist
of 1950s-era ex-Long Island Railroad coaches. Hopefully they’ll consider
adding an open air car, as it would be greatly appreciated by those of
us who like to stand outside and take in the scenery. The talk on
Thursday was that the D&RGHF’s SP B30-7 will provide power for at
least one of the runs, but that’s not from any official source, just the
railfan rumor mill. Even if not, the rumor mill also says that the
SL&RG has a number of rebuilt units coming that will actually be
painted in an SLRG paint scheme, not just the mix-and-match lease fleet
that the RailAmerica version of the SL&RG used.
This is an incredible opportunity, and I do hope that the trains becomes a success. Other than a handful of private car trips over the pass, no regularly-scheduled passenger train has made the journey in nearly fifty years. The La Veta Pass line is one of the least accessible on the former Rio Grande system, as it passes through a rugged, remote region with few roads, and largely inaccessible otherwise because it’s private property. Over this stretch lie tunnels, steep grades of 3%, sharp curves, and spectacular views to all sides. The run to Antonito should be an excellent complement to the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic, and hopefully with be good for both railroads as well as the tourism trade in the surrounding communities. For more information about riding the new line, see their website at http://www.alamosatrain.com. Hopefully on May 25, I’ll be able to post another one of these trip reports, except this time from the point of view as a passenger.
All photographs in this trip report were taken with a Canon EOS 20D using either a Canon 28-105mm USM or a Canon 75-300mm f4-5.3 IS/USM.
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.