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Durango railroad resumes service, clarifies fire precautions

After a three-day pause, rides started again Wednesday
The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad restarted operations Wednesday after a three-day pause because of fire precautions. Jeff Johnson, general manager for D&SNG, said the railroad does not expect chronic pauses in service this summer. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad ran trains Wednesday after a three-day hiatus out of an abundance of caution for fire danger.

“We’re going to continue to be sensitive to any fire precaution levels for the season, but in the meantime and for the foreseeable future, we’re in full-swing operation,” said Jeff Johnson, general manager for D&SNG.

Sunday through Tuesday the railroad paused operations because of elevated fire risk identified by the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. The federal agencies raised their Industrial Fire Precaution Level rating to Level 4, their highest designation, at which time D&SNG paused operations because of its settlement with the federal government earlier this year for the train’s role in the 416 Fire.

As part of the settlement, the railroad agreed to comply with the Forest Service’s and BLM’s Durango Interagency Dispatch Center Industrial Fire Restrictions Plan, which mandates that the train pause operations when the IFPL reaches Level 4.

Johnson said Wednesday that D&SNG had returned to normal operations and there were no precautions that would cause the train to stop in the immediate future.

“At the moment, we don’t see (in the forecast) any particular indication that we’re going to be in Level 4, but we’re just watching it closely,” he said.

With summer fast approaching and hot and dry weather settling in, D&SNG does not yet know whether pauses for wildfire danger will be chronic during the tourism season.

There were a total of three Level 4 days in 2021 and 22 in 2020, according to the Durango Interagency Dispatch Center Industrial Fire Restrictions Plan.

From 2010 to 2021, an average of six days per year were rated Level 4.

In its first year using the Industrial Fire Restrictions Plan precautions, D&SNG plans to operate as normal while following any restrictions implemented by the federal agencies, Johnson said.

“It’s not expected to be long term or consistent, but we’re prepared for it if it is at any time,” he said. “... The way the forecasting and the way the system works, so many different conditions are factored into that level rating.”

San Juan National Forest did not respond to requests for comment.

On Wednesday, D&SNG added an additional train to accommodate passengers affected by the pause. Johnson said the railroad will look at alternatives such as scheduling passengers on other days if operations are again forced to pause.

If there are any future interruptions, the train will communicate with passengers, Johnson said.

“Tourism and the guest experience in Durango and on the railroad right now is business as normal and nothing has changed,” he said Wednesday.

For the 50th Iron Horse Bicycle Classic, cyclists will still have a chance to race against the train. Both D&SNG’s 8:15 and 9 a.m. trains will be running on race day.

“Our expectation is not that this is going to be chronically stressful or last-minute. Going through the first day of a Level 4, we were just not expecting anything that quickly, so we’re adapting,” Johnson said. “We expect things to roll pretty strong and so far reservations are up in general, and I think reservations across town are still real robust.”

ahannon@durangoherald.com

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