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Home / News & Reviews / News Wire / Durango & Silverton set to go coal-free in 2021 season

Durango & Silverton set to go coal-free in 2021 season

By | June 25, 2021

Oil-fired steam engines, diesels handling current schedule

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Steam locomotive in yard
Steam locomotive in yard
Durango & Silverton K-37 No. 493, the railroad’s first locomotive converted to oil firing, pulls out of the Durango, Colo., roundhouse for the first time on Friday, Jan. 24, 2020. The Durango & Silverton is on pace to operate without using a coal-fired locomotive during the 2021 season. (Jerry Day)

DURANGO, Colo. — In a break from its 140-year history, the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad appears to be on the way to running an entire season without using a coal-burning locomotive.

The Durango Telegraph reports the railroad is set to handle the season with two steam locomotives converted from coal to oil firing, as well as one of its increasing fleet of diesels. If demand requires, a third oil-burning steam engine should be ready later this summer.

“It’s a new era,” Durango & Silverton general manager Jeff Johnson told the news site. “Things change, but that’s part of progress.”

The shift away from the railroad’s traditional coal-fired locomotives was hastened by the summer of 2018, when a wildfire known as the 416 fire burned more than 54,000 acres and devastated local businesses, including the railroad, which was forced to shut down for an extended period. The federal government has said one of the railroad’s trains is responsible, and is suing to recover $25 million in firefighting costs [see “Digest: Date, site set for trial seeking damages …,” Trains News Wire, Nov. 16, 2020], while local businesses are also suing for damages [see “Digest: Insurance company sues Durango & Silverton …,” News Wire, June 4, 2020].

That year led Al Harper, CEO of Durango & Silverton parent American Heritage Railways, to vow the railroad would never again be shut down because of fire, leading to a $7 million commitment to convert to oil-burning steam engines and diesel locomotives. Johnson told the Telegraph there have been few complaints: “Most people understand the reason why we moved in the direction we have. And we’re generally filling every seat we can offer right now.”

18 thoughts on “Durango & Silverton set to go coal-free in 2021 season

  1. It’s not blasphemy. It’s dealing with the world as it comes to you. Climate change is going to make the West drier and railroads (including tourist lines) need to respond to that by limiting their pollution which starts fires.

    If the D&S ignored this and kept burning coal they would be bankrupt in 5 years because fires will get started from cinders.

    1. That’s incorrect, Mr. Friedman…when did the branch to Silverton open(1882), therefore from 1882 until 2018(136 years) the line ran with either wood burning or coal burning engines exclusively…and there was never an issue with forest fires caused by the train during that time. The whole 416 fire can actually be blamed on BLM and Forest Service for failure to properly maintain forest land, if we’d have bothered to learn from the Native Americans and also let nature takes it course, America wouldn’t be having these devastating wild fires like we have over the last several years. Climate change has a minimal if no impact on forest management.

    2. Master Friedman your like the old reliable at Yellowstone, right on schedule you spout the leftist diatribe, most of us have little interest in what you believe we NEED to do. Your heated breath adds to global warming just as does cow manure.

    3. Wow. Ya’ll are unbelievably rude. The things you say to other adults make me think that you’re just a bunch of bitter old men who were bullies when you were children and nothing changed because you never got called on your nonsense.

      Keep yelling at each other for someone to get off your lawn. While the world changes around you.

      1. I was refuting your statement with a few facts, those most easily obtained by a simple Google search…and certainly not yelling, just disagreeing with your statement and explaining why. Also, you don’t see the U.K. or Australia trying to convert their steam engines from coal to oil burning, do you?

  2. Much safer this way. And not as dirty. Even Big Boy 4014 made the switch – and lost a lot of weight in the process.

  3. This must be–alas–but the diesel-only alternative is much worse. It’s also worth noting that the Cumbres and Toltec is also converting K36 #489 to oil.

    The D&S has been using the -ex SP 2-8-0 “Slim Princess” engine #18 this summer, as well as the K37–and also has a K28 coming later in the season. Far better oil-fired steam that diesels–even White Pass and Yukon examples!

  4. I have a device that attaches to the front of former coal fired trains. It emits a odor that is reminiscent of the smell given by coal fired engines. It is powered by the steam of the oil burning engine. All the coal lovers can still get their intake like someone who loves to vape. We also produce pamphlets that remind all the passengers that while they may smell the coal burning, no forests were burned down during the excursion.

    And if you believe me, you are too engrossed in the moment.

  5. Between the USFS and local businesses suing, D & S should’ve taken the hint that its economic presence is unwelcome and clear-cut the right-of-way, buildings, and physical plant, scrapped the locomotives and rolling stock, and shredded all documents. I’m sure the suing businesses and USFS would be able to support the local economy.

    As for “global warming”, in the 1970’s, the “lie” was “global cooling”. Fears of “a new ice age” forced industrialized countries to go to “new” (and less efficient) refrigerants.

  6. I remember Durango in the early 60’s when the Rio Grande was still the operator.
    While the railroad did a decent job of maintaining the track and rolling stock;
    Durango was still a pretty sleepy tourist town. The growth of the railroad after being sold by the class 1 is the reason that 60% of the business growth happened at all.
    Just a thought about those diesels. D&S please give them decent hooters to echo off those canyon walls..A properly tuned Amtrak 5 chime is almost steam like and if any of those Nathan air whistles that the New Haven used are around; the sound was also wonderful and close to steamish.
    Do feel bad for the coal miners at the nearby mine that supplies coal; used to truck loads from the mine and the folks we wonderful.

  7. Wow. Global warming is part of the earth’s cycles for millions of years. 4014 conversion to oil was more of a logistical issue. Wonder how businesses would miss the economic contributions D&S makes to the area with the people that come to ride. Oil burners and diesels won’t matter to some but will keep me from coming back.

  8. What are the pipes in front of the cab coming off the top of the boiler on both sides? They are something new.
    If D&S and C&TS took no new action to help prevent forest fires, the next one time it happened would definitely be on them. There are people in Durango who oppose coal smoke–perhaps lost souls so to speak. Neither road is at this point converting all coal firing to oil. Older GE diesels were also noted for starting grass fires down on the ATSF Pecos Valley branch between Clovis and Carlsbad, NM. This was quite noticeable at night when one could see sparks coming out the exhaust stack. Diesels may lessen the chance of fires, but they can give off sparks too. Many EMD switchers, geeps, and F units had spark arrestors.

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