Rio Grande Scenic Railroad

Last revised: January 7, 2022

By: Adam Burns

The Rio Grande Scenic Railroad, or RGSR for short, was a tourist railroad based in Alamosa, Colorado that began in 2006.

The railroad operated exclusively over ex-Rio Grande trackage and connected with the popular narrow-gauge tourist line, Cumbres & Toltec Scenic at its southern terminus of Chama, New Mexico.

The tourist railroad blossomed into an upscale operation and offered passengers a wide array of on board options using restored, streamlined passenger equipment behind both steam and diesel locomotives.

Alas, the Rio Grande Scenic was shuttered in 2019 after its parent company, the  San Luis & Rio Grande Railroad entered bankruptcy.

The SL&RG was a freight carrier, itself owned by Ed Ellis's Iowa Pacific Holdings group.  Unfortunately, Ellis overextended his operations and was forced into involuntary bankruptcy.  His former properties and equipment have been subsequently sold off.

The lines operated by the Rio Grande Scenic Railroad were once secondary and branch lines owned by the Denver & Rio Grande Western.

However, these were not part of its famous narrow-gauge mining branches. Instead, they diverged at Alamosa (where the railroad's main line to Santa Fe could also be found) reaching Creede to the west and Walsenburg to the east.

The town was also the D&RGW's base of operations for its mining branches, as incoming traffic from those lines were forwarded before being sent else.

As such, Alamosa was a very important location for the railroad at one time with through trains and regional freight traffic all reaching the town.

The history of both routes date back to their opening by the Denver & Rio Grande in the late 1870s.

During the Rio Grande Scenic Railroad's time in service it operated between Monte Vista, Alamosa, and La Verta along a route that stretched more than 80 miles.

Additionally, they operated the Rio Grande's line between Alamosa and Chama, New Mexico, another 70+ miles in length.

For a scenic train, the RGS was an expansive operation covering about 160 miles.  Such a large network enabled the carrier to offer guests a wide range of trips and services.

For this reason the railroad grew in popularity quite rapidly, aided in part by the sheer beauty of southwestern Colorado and northern New Mexico.

For power the RGS employed two steam locomotives, a 2-6-0 Mogul #1744 (of Southern Pacific heritage) and 2-8-0 Consolidation, #18, of Lake Superior & Ishpeming lineage.

The latter was purchased by the Colebrookdale Railroad of Pennsylvania while the former is now at the Niles Canyon Railway in California.

Along with its steam fleet the railroad also retained a small operational fleet of diesels, which were the true workhorses of the operation.

Mr. Ellis loved streamlined diesels and had a handful of F units on the property, including a few that were painted in a Rio Grande-inspired livery (like FP10 #1100, originally built as Gulf, Mobile & Ohio F3A #805-A).

Via its three lines the railroad operated three different passenger trains including:

  • San Luis Express which operated between Alamosa and La Veta on a two-hour trip.

  • Toltec Gorge Limited, which operated between Alamosa and Antonito on a complete round-trip between the two towns.

  • Mote Vista Mixed which traveled between Alamosa and Monte Vista, with a one-hour layover in Monte Vista.  

Departures took place from the restored Rio Grande depot in Alamosa. Please also be aware that the Rio Grande Scenic Railroad's excursions offer a multitude of options.

The closing of the railroad is a true shame but not unexpected to anyone familiar with the Ellis operation by the mid/late 2010's when it was clear there were signs of major financial problems.

Given the size of the Rio Grande Scenic operation and the mileage it covered the railroad will likely find a new owner in the near future although it remains to be seen if public excursions will continue to be offered on the property.

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