DURANGO, Colo. — Just days after releasing a newly restored K-37 2-8-2 locomotive that has been converted to burn oil instead of coal, shop crews at the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad are starting to convert another 3-foot gauge steam locomotive.
On Jan. 24, the D&SNG fired up No. 493, one of the largest types of locomotive ever built for the Denver & Rio Grande Western’s famed narrow-gauge operation, following an extensive overhaul [See: “Durango & Silverton completes restoration, conversion of K-37 locomotive,” Trains News Wire, Jan. 27, 2020]. Since then, the railroad has been testing the locomotive and on Tuesday it hauled a 13-car passenger train in one of its biggest challenges yet. D&SNG General Manager Jeff Johnson tells Trains News Wire that the locomotive has performed flawlessly.
“The initial test runs for No. 493 have gone well so far, with no glaring issues or additional repairs needed,” he says. “With each subsequent test run, the crew will let No. 493 run a further distance up the line, and with increased speed.”
The locomotive is expected to make its public debut on Feb. 15-16 during the railroad’s annual winter photography weekend.
The restoration of No. 493 now gives the D&SNG seven operating 2-8-2s, making it home to the largest regularly operational fleet of steam locomotives in North America.
No. 493 last ran in 1968 and in recent years had been on display in Silverton. The D&SNG decided to convert one of its former Rio Grande Mikados from coal to oil following a wildfire that closed the railroad for more than a month in 2018 [See: “Durango & Silverton looks to oil firing, diesels,” Trains News Wire, July 13, 2018].
D&SNGRR Chief Mechanical Officer Randy Babcock says the conversion put his shop team to the test but that in the end, they succeeded.
“In addition to the extensive restoration time expected for completely rebuilding a deteriorated locomotive and tender which had not operated in over 50 years, No. 493’s restoration was unique because of all the additional design, engineering, and fabrication time needed to complete the engine’s transformation,” Babcock says. “For example, the locomotive’s conversion from coal- to oil-fueled motive power required numerous original designs and drawings to facilitate the fabrication and machining of new parts.”
The shop team will be putting those same techniques to use when it converts another locomotive, K-28 No. 473, to burn oil. Johnson tells Trains News Wire that the locomotive was selected because it was already slated to have significant firebox work this year and because the railroad has access to blueprints of the Oahu Railway Land & Transportation Company’s oil-burning 2-8-2s, which were nearly identical to the Rio Grande’s K-28s. The blueprints mean the railroad will not have to create oil-burning apparatuses from scratch. Johnson says the locomotive will likely enter service in 2020.
“The D&SNGRR is currently assessing and developing a long-term strategic outlook for its current and future motive power plans and accompanying operations,” he says. “At the present time, and for the foreseeable future, the railroad will utilize its entire fleet of locomotives, including coal-burning and oil-fired (steam locomotives) and diesel engines, to transport passengers on a broad range of excursions and special events throughout the year. This approach gives the company much-needed operational depth for greater engine scheduling and maintenance flexibility.”
In 2018, the railroad announced that it was also purchasing two diesel locomotives from Motive Power & Equipment Solutions, Inc. that could be used on its 45-mile excursions to Silverton particularly when the danger for wildfire is high. Officials tell Trains News Wire that the construction of those locomotives has been delayed but that they will likely arrive on the property in 2020.
— Updated Feb. 5 at 11 a.m. with more information and updated timeline for conversion of No. 473.