Crews make headway on mudslide

Heavy equipment is used to clear mud and rocks from train tracks. A mudslide reported Tuesday between Needleton and Elk Park forced the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad to cancel its runs to Silverton until at least Saturday. More problems from mudslides were discovered Wednesday. Enlarge photo

Courtesy of Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railr

Heavy equipment is used to clear mud and rocks from train tracks. A mudslide reported Tuesday between Needleton and Elk Park forced the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad to cancel its runs to Silverton until at least Saturday. More problems from mudslides were discovered Wednesday.

The railroad has canceled all trips to Silverton until at least Saturday as a result of a large debris flow that covered the tracks.

The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad is running trains to the Cascade Wye – a partial trip – until the line reopens, said Andrea Seid, spokeswoman for the railroad.

Crews worked all day Wednesday to remove the mixture of mud, rock and trees that covered the tracks, she said. But more needs to be done.

The slide was so big that it briefly dammed the Animas River and flooded the tracks.

“While the river has receded, extensive rock and debris remain on the tracks, preventing trains from traveling to Silverton,” Seid said in a news release issued at 6:45 p.m. Wednesday.

The slide, estimated to be 300 feet long and 12 to 15 feet deep, was reported at 3:37 p.m. Tuesday between Needleton and Elk Park, about 10 miles south of Silverton in San Juan County.

Two trains carrying about 500 passengers had to back up to Silverton. The passengers were bused back to Durango.

Rail workers on Wednesday found more slides that covered the tracks.

“I don’t know how close together they are, and I don’t know if they have connected,” Seid said. “But it did come down in more than one place.”

Railroad executives were “hopeful” the track would be cleared by Saturday, Seid said. As the rails become visible, crews will inspect them for damage, she said.

“They don’t anticipate (damage), but until they can see it, they can’t say that definitely,” she said.

Slides of this magnitude are uncommon, but they have been known to occur and interrupt train service for days at a time, especially during the summer monsoons.

Last summer, a slide prevented trains from reaching Silverton for one or two days, Seid said.

The canceled trains are bad news for Silverton businesses who rely heavily on the summer tourism season, said Elaine Murray, who works in the Visitor Center. The lack of tourists was apparent Wednesday, she said.

“It has quite an impact,” Murray said. “But a lot of people do drive up to see what they’re missing.”

Hundreds of people gathered at the depot Wednesday morning expecting to ride the train or to receive refunds, which were granted.

Others opted to take the 26-mile trip to the Cascade Wye, which was being offered at a reduced price.

Eric Eagleburger of Springfield, Mo., said he didn’t plan to ride the train this trip, but once he heard of the reduced rates, he was considering it.

“The price is right,” he said. “The mudslide might be a good thing as far as getting more people on the train.”

Some customers Wednesday were upset they couldn’t go to Silverton, Seid said, but they understood after seeing photographs of the slide.

“When they saw the photos, people just go, ‘Oh, now we get it.’”

shane@durangoherald.com

Comments » Read and share your thoughts on this story