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Home / News & Reviews / News Wire / Durango & Silverton suspends operations because of fire danger (updated)

Durango & Silverton suspends operations because of fire danger (updated)

By | May 18, 2022

Move reflects new rules from settlement of federal lawsuit

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Steam locomotive leads train onto dirt street
Steam locomotive leads train onto dirt street
A Durango & Silverton train arrives in Silverton, Colo., in October 2018. The railroad temporarily suspended operations for three days this week because of fire danger. (Trains: David Lassen)

DURANGO, Colo. — The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge temporarily suspended operations this week because of fire danger just eight days into its spring season, reflecting new operating rules the railroad agreed to as part of a settlement with the federal government earlier this year.

The Durango Herald reports trains stopped running as of Sunday, based on the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management raising their fire precaution rating to its highest level. As of today (Wednesday, May 18), operations have resumed.

Durango & Silverton General Manager Jeff Johnson told the newspaper that the railroad is “talking with the Forest Service on virtually a daily basis to make sure that we’re all aligned on the conditions as we operate.”

The railroad agreed to comply with a federal Fire Restrictions Plan as part of a March settlement over the railroad’s role in the 416 fire, a 2018 wildfire that burned more than 54,000 acres. [see “Durango & Silverton settles lawsuits …,” Trains News Wire, March 22, 2022]. The federal government had claimed cinders from a locomotive started the fire; the railroad contends it did not start the fire. The settlement was not an admission of liability.

Under the fire plan, coal-fired locomotives may not operate when the fire danger is at Level 2; any work that produces sparks or has an open flame is prohibited at Level 3; and all operations cease at Level 4, the current rating.

The railroad will typical forecast its precautions three to five days in advance and carry the information on its website. A last-minute change will result in text messages and emails to passengers.

— Updated at 1:35 p.m. CDT with resumption of operations.

15 thoughts on “Durango & Silverton suspends operations because of fire danger (updated)

  1. For travelers on extended vacations, this means your vacation plans get seriously interrupted with just a few days notification while you are already vacationing. Its not that easy when vacationing during tourist season to change hotels, especially without significant costs.

  2. I am glad I rode it when I did. Today, it would be too much of risk making plans and reservations, and have some bureaucrat’s classification of the perceived fire risk arbitrarily cancel them on short notice. Would this be covered by trip interruption insurance?

    As for the D&S Rwy, if they may only be open for a limited number of days, then their business will fall off, possibly go out of business, and the Durango and Silverton economies are going to suffer.

    1. If the local communities cared about any impact the D & S has on their economies, the persecution would’ve been politically quashed at the outset. D & S would’ve been justified to not just fight in court, but abandon the right-of-way, demolish the structures, and scrap the equipment. Just leave a sign saying, “Enjoy the trees… Durango & Silverton Railroad.

  3. Better shut down all the highways too….don’t want that errantly tossed cigarette butt to start a fire….

  4. Does this mean BNSF and UP or any railroad can not operate in that corner of the world at all? Probably not, Just the D&S. It is ridiculous.

    1. If any other railroad operated in that corner of the world I’m sure the Forest Service would find a way to make them follow the same rules…except that common carrier obligations would override anything the Forest Service did.

  5. Maybe D&S should try to get common carrier status and tell the Forest Svc to pound sand. It would be better for everyone affected by this SNAFU.

    1. Since the D&S is detached from the national railroad grid, they do not have common carrier status. Similar to the situation with the Santa Cruz, Big Trees & Pacific, if Santa Cruz County Measure D Trails initiative passed (?) yesterday, the SCBT&P would be detached from the national grid and loose its common carrier status. The D&S has been detached (at least) since the main line to Chama was abandoned in the late 1960’s.

    1. I’ve heard there’s a proposal to build a new standard-gauge line from the BNSF near Gallup up to Farmington. If it does eventually happen, D&S should go there instead. Closer to Durango and also to the ports at Los Angeles.

    2. I think part of the right-of-way between Durango and Chama is situated under a reservoir.

  6. How many years have these trains been running? 100 years? and now the Forrest Service decides to implement this new ruling? Has anyone looked at the Forrest Service and investigate its Forrest policy on Management of the land and far as removing brush close to the right of way, thinning trees and other ways to help prevent fires from being started. It looks like the Forrest Service is more interested in making the D & S the scapegoat for what happened, then taking any responsibility for the fires

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