The Royal Gorge Route Railroad is another tourist railroad that operates part of the Denver & Rio Grande Western’s super-scenic trackage in Colorado (today, there are nearly an incredible number of organizations operating excursion trains on former D&RGW trackage). Also close to other very popular lines like the Rio Grande Scenic Railroad, Cumbres & Toltec Scenic, and Durango & Silverton the Royal Gorge Route operates 24 miles of the Rio Grande’s famous line, the Royal George Route (this line runs through the gorges carved by the Arkansas River and was a very popular photo op location for railfans during D&RGW operations), departing daily from Canyon City, Colorado (it should be noted that the railroad is one of the few tourist lines to operate year-round). Given the stunning geography of the region the railroad now draws more than 100,000 visitors annually and hosts a wide range of excursions for passengers to choose from.
Like the rest of Colorado’s famous tourist lines, the Royal Gorge Route Railroad offers some of the most spectacular views of the state, in this case the famous Royal Gorge area in which runs the Arkansas River. This Rio Grande line was built in the late 19th century primarily to tap the lucrative silver mines in the region. However, the railroad fought bitterly for years with the Santa Fe to obtain exclusive rights to reach the Leadville area, where the mines were centrally located. The two railroads continued to fight for years until March 27, 1880 when the settlement known as the "Treaty of Boston" was signed by the two railroads, giving the Rio Grande exclusive rights to operate through the gorge and paying the Santa Fe for the routes it had constructed through the area. The line would become part of the Rio Grande's Tennessee Pass.
Despite the fact that the legendary California Zephyr (famous for offering passengers along the Rio Grande, Burlington, and Western Pacific railroads unparalleled scenery between Chicago and Oakland) did not pass through the Royal Gorge, which was arguably the most scenic area of the railroad, travelers could nevertheless travel by train through the Arkansas Valley via the D&RGW's Royal Gorge. This train took travelers from Denver, through Pueblo and the Arkansas Valley all of the way to Ogden, Utah. The train remained on the Rio Grande's timetable until August, 1967 when it was discontinued, the result of both poor ridership as well as the cancellation of mail contracts by the government (switching the service to trucks, instead).
The Royal Gorge Route Railroad was created in 1998 after Union Pacific decided to sell 12 miles of the pass through the Royal Gorge although the Class I railroad continues to own the rest of the dormant route. While the river and gorge remain the top reason folks continually return to ride the train its notable design feature is the hanging bridge constructed by the Santa Fe. The structure uses angled supports anchored to each side of the canyon walls to sustain the bridge's weight over the river. It is a fascinating design that remains the keynote feature of the route (even during the Rio Grande's days, photographers tried to catch trains crossing the bridge).
Today, the Royal Gorge Route Railroad offers guests a variety of adventures from cab rides and group charters to several different trains. For instance, they host special trains throughout the year, particular during the holidays including the Santa Express Train, Easter Bunny Special, and Oktoberfest. Additionally, they offer passengers several accommodation options from standard coach to Vista Dome service and gourmet lunch and dinner trains. On top of all of this the train is bedecked in classic Rio Grande orange, silver, and black featuring the railroad's classic speed lettering. One thing is for sure, a trip aboard the Royal Gorge Route Railroad is something to remember!
Overall, depending on the type of service you are interested in or can afford the railroad offers it all, as it is one of the few tourist lines to feature restored, streamlined passenger equipment such as dome cars and diners. As with all of the other excursion services operating former Rio Grande trackage in Colorado, the Royal Gorge Route Railroad's seasonal schedule runs between late May and late October, outside of the frigid cold of winter. If you think you may be interested in riding train please visit their website for more information. There you can learn about everything they currently offer including other information such as how to reach Canon City and local accommodations.
To learn more about the history of the Denver & Rio Grande Western please click here. Also, for more information about excursion trains like the Royal Gorge Route 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.
Check out the website's digital book (E-book), An Atlas To Classic Short Lines, which features system maps and a brief background of 46 different historic railroads. To learn more please click on the image below.