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Rockslide covers train tracks, interrupting service to Silverton

Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad service to Silverton remained closed Tuesday
Two excavators and a bulldozer were working Tuesday to remove rubble from the train tracks, said railroad general manager Jeff Johnson. (Courtesy of Jeff Johnson)

Trips to Silverton via the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad will be canceled through Wednesday and possibly longer after a rockslide buried the tracks, said railroad Vice President and General Manager Jeff Johnson.

A section of the 45-mile track was blocked by a pile of debris on Saturday. Officials were notified of the slide just after 7:30 that morning.

“We’re finding that the amount of debris that we’re having to deal with is fairly extensive,” Johnson said. “And we’ve got multiple pieces of heavy equipment up there right now.”

He said rain from last week’s storms likely caused the slide. Parts of Southwest Colorado were hit hard by remnants of Tropical Storm Alberto, which pushed heavy rain into the region.

According to the National Weather Service’s Advanced Hydrologic Prediction Service, areas just south of Silverton in the San Juan Mountains received about 2 inches of rain since last Thursday.

Johnson told The Durango Herald on Tuesday the rock debris is substantial in size and has been a tall task for maintenance crews to remove. However, crews were able to remove enough debris to uncover some of the track on Tuesday afternoon.

Two excavators and a bulldozer have been out near mile post 486, just outside Needleton, where the slide occurred. It is likely service to Silverton may not resume until the end of the week, Johnson said.

“The rock fall came down in one location,” he said. “And the rain that basically brought it down created a little bit of a small pond or a little mini lake on the north end of (the slide). So it dammed it up.”

Officials won’t know the extent of damage until all of the rock debris has been cleared. Johnson said ballast maintenance will likely have to be conducted.

Track ballast is the material that forms the track bed where railroad ties are placed. It is used to bear the compression load of the railroad ties, rails and rolling stock to facilitate drainage.

Excessive water on the tracks can harm the track’s stability, which is why it is important for maintenance crews to examine the track, Johnson said.

In the meantime, trains are going to Cascade Canyon before returning to Durango instead of going all the way to Silverton.


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