The Cumbres And Toltec Scenic Railroad

The Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad is another famous narrow-gauge tourist railroad in southwest Colorado and northwest New Mexico, like the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad (except that it operates entirely in Colorado). The C&T is quite similar to the D&S in many ways, including the use of famous narrow-gauge steam locomotives that are native to the line (which were originally owned by the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad). Also like the D&S, the C&T operates through the gorgeous canyons and mountains located in the region. So, if you are ever in southwest Colorado I would strongly consider stopping by to see this historic and super scenic tourist railroad! Even better, if you time, also stop by and see the nearby Durango & Silverton.

Rio Grande Class K-36 #487 and sister #488 steam up as they ready for another day of excursion service next to the shop in Chama, New Mexico on September 18, 2009.

The Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad's famous narrow-gauge operations were mostly concentrated west of Antonio, Colorado. From a connection there with its main line to Santa Fe the D&RGW reached the town of Durango, Silverton, and Farmington in the late 19th century to tap the region's lucrative silver mines. At the time of the line's construction in 1880 the then Denver & Rio Grande named the route its San Juan Extension. Tracks along the branch were originally laid in three-foot, "narrow gauge", as a means of reducing construction costs and expediting the line's completion. While this certainly worked as the railroad had intended, the difficulty and lost time in having to switch out cargo from standard gauge to narrow-gauge freight cars ultimately proved to be unprofitable.

As such, the D&RG planned to upgrade the line to standard gauge although with the passage of the Sherman Act in 1893 silver mining became nearly unprofitable and the railroad scrapped the idea. This resulted in the San Juan Extension remaining a narrow-gauge line throughout its operation under the Denver & Rio Grande Western. The route did see an uptick in traffic after World War II due to natural gas reserves found in the region but by the late 1960s the railroad was looking to scrap all of its narrow-gauge operations. At the same time that Colorado looked to save the Durango to Silverton section of the line in 1970, which became the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge, it teamed up with New Mexico to also help purchase the route between Antonio and Chama, a distance of over 45 miles.

Rio Grande Class K-36 #484 switches cars around the yard in Chama on September 18, 2009. Fall is in the air here as the trees are beginning to show slight fades of color.

Thanks to their efforts the C&TS is one of the most popular excursion trains in the country. Today, Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad’s passenger trains are pulled by vintage and authentic (to the railroad line itself) narrow gauge steam locomotives, all of which are original to the region (when the states purchased the route it included nine original D&RGW steam locomotives and more than 100 freight cars). Obviously, the railroad is quite similar to the Durango & Silverton given that both operate the same line, in the region, and use much of the same equipment. After 40 years of service, the C&TS now provides passengers with a wide range of options when taking the train via their fleet of historic, restored passenger cars. These include the ability to ride in coach class, tourist class, or parlor class (the most expensive) depending on your budget and how you like to experience your trip.

Typically, the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad's operating schedule runs between late May and through mid-October on a daily basis. Today, they offer six different excursions between Chama and Ant/Osier either via train or bus. They also operate several specials including photo shoots (mostly reserved for photographers and train buffs the railroad operates a dated freight train featuring antique freight cars), wine/dinner trains, the Moonlight Train, holiday specials, and much more.  Below is a complete roster of the railroad, which includes several steamers and diesel both:

Diesels

· #19 – General Electric 44-tonner

· Critter – An Alco-Rogers 5-ton switcher

Steam Locomotives

All steam locomotives are of Denver & Rio Grande Western lineage.

· #463 – Baldwin Locomotive Works K-27

· #483 - Baldwin Locomotive Works K-36

· #484 – Baldwin Locomotive Works K-36

· #487 – Baldwin Locomotive Works K-36

· #488 – Baldwin Locomotive Works K-36

· #489 – Baldwin Locomotive Works K-36

· #492 – Baldwin Locomotive Works K-37 (Not Operational)

· #494 – Baldwin Locomotive Works K-37 (Not Operational)

· #495 – Baldwin Locomotive Works K-37 (Not Operational)

· #497 – Baldwin Locomotive Works K-37

A trip to see the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad and its historic steam locomotives is well worth the time, the beautiful mountain scenery of southwestern Colorado and northwestern New Mexico is something to behold. And, if you have more time, you might also want to stop on over to the Durango & Silverton and see their historic operations as well. All in all, you shouldn’t be disappointed in your trip, if for nothing else than the scenery!  For more information about the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad please click here to visit their official website. Superbly well done there you can learn more about the history of the line/railroad, all of their special trains, standard excursions, pricing, operating schedules, the latest happenings, and plenty more. The railroad also operates a Facebook fan page so if you have an account be sure and sign up to keep with everything ongoing out in Chama.


Another view of #484 pulling a westbound excursion five miles outside of Chama on September 18, 2009.

For a deeper history of the Denver & Rio Grande Western please click here. Also, for more information about excursion trains like the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad you might want to consider the book Tourist Trains Guidebook, which is put together by the editors of Kalmbach Publishing's Trains magazine. The guide below is the latest, released in just April, 2011 that now includes more than 470 museums and tourist trains. In any event, if you're interested in perhaps purchasing this book please visit the link below which will take you to ordering information through Amazon.com, the trusted online shopping network.

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