SILVERTON – Rain fell sporadically in Silverton on Saturday – and the town was without power for most of the day – but many locals were excited anyway. After all, it was the first day the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge train had arrived in Silverton since 2019.
“It was a totally fun, festive atmosphere, actually – tons of Silverton locals just out socializing, having fun and celebrating the train,” said DeAnne Gallegos, director of the Silverton Area Chamber of Commerce. “The train coming back is just a sign that we’re moving into our summer season, and the world is shifting back to some sort of normalcy.”
The train never made the journey all the way to Silverton in 2020, primarily because it could only operate at 50% capacity during the COVID-19 pandemic – which, in turn, made the trip financially unfeasible. In addition to the virus, a rainstorm washed out a portion of the tracks that spring, rendering the route impossible for eight to 16 weeks.
During summer 2020, the D&SNG instead made smaller trips, primarily from the Rockwood to Cascade stations.
In March, D&SNG announced that it planned to start making the trip all the way to Silverton again, albeit at 50% capacity. But thanks to the loosening of COVID-19 restrictions in May, the train is able to operate at full capacity again.
“It’s great,” said John Walden, an engineer who was worked for D&SNG for 12 years. “We missed it. It’s honestly hard to describe, but it’s great to be back.”
A fully-loaded train can transport more than 400 passengers to Silverton and back.
The return of the train is particularly important to Silverton’s business community.
“The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge train is definitely kind of the heart and soul of our summertime season,” Gallegos said. “The adventure and character that it adds to our town coming in every day – and then, of course, bringing over 188,000 passengers in in the summer season is important to our economy. ... The most exciting thing about having the train today, especially for our business community, was to get back into the groove of what a normal summer is and to see the energy and excitement of the train’s passengers pouring into our town on a daily basis and filling our restaurants and shops."
Jeff Rome, an employee at the Old Arcade Trading Post at the intersection of Empire and 12th streets near where D&SNG passengers disembark, was happy to see the train return.
“It’s nice to have the train back and bringing the tourists and see everyone dressed up in Western garb,” he said. “It just feels a little bit more normal.”
The day, though, was not quite as normal as residents of Silverton probably would have preferred.
According to Gallegos, the San Miguel Power Association informed the town around 9 a.m. that it would be without power for seven to 10 hours.
“That being said, our restaurants are amazing,” she said. “They have stepped up – they bought in generators, barbecues, serving sandwiches. They’re basically doing the best that they can to service all of our guests coming into town.
“Living in a high-alpine town, it’s always unpredictable, but who knew on the first day of the train we would have a town-wide power outage?”
She said that while it’s not unusual for Silverton to experience power outages, they rarely last for more than an hour or two.
Another shock to residents of the town was the types of trains that arrived, Gallegos said. The first to arrive in town came in on a diesel engine, and the second was pulled by a Southern Pacific oil-burning steam engine.
“It’s very encouraging and inspiring to see the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge train diversify and figure out different modes of operation, especially in the current climate of the drought in the Four Corners and the wildfire issue we are going to have this summer,” she said.
It was the beginning of a new era for the town.
“Today is the very first day that both trains came in with alternative engines – an oil-burner and a diesel,” Gallegos said. “We’ve never experienced that before since 1882.”