A recent rainstorm has washed out a significant portion of the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad’s tracks, effectively cutting off the railroad from Silverton for the next eight to 16 weeks.
“What a devastating situation for us,” said John Harper, general manager of American Heritage Railways, which owns the D&SNG.
Harper said a hiker alerted the D&SNG of a massive log jam at one of the railroad’s bridges that crosses Elk Creek, a tributary of the Animas River about 5 miles below Silverton.
Upon further inspection, it appears a significant rainstorm in the past week or two brought down a massive amount of debris from the Elk Creek drainage, which jammed at the railroad’s bridge.
The log jam then caused Elk Creek to overflow and wash out more than 40 feet of the D&SNG’s tracks.
“Now, we can’t get through, and have no access to Silverton,” Harper said.
The D&SNG shut down in March because of the novel coronavirus outbreak, and plans to resume limited runs Tuesday from the Rockwood station to Cascade, which was not affected by the recent washout.
But D&SNG officials had hoped to resume the full trip to Silverton as soon as feasibly possible, or as an alternative, start trips based out of Silverton to either Elk Creek or Needleton, both popular hiking areas.
“Unfortunately, this has really set us back a significant amount of time,” Harper said.
D&SNG crews are evaluating the damage, Harper said, and hope to start removing debris this week. A full repair of the washed out tracks, however, could take eight to 16 weeks, he said.
“It’s going to take a significant effort from the railroad,” he said. “It’s not going to be fixed in the next month or two.”
Harper said the bridge is at risk for significant damage. Members of the public hiking in the area should also exercise caution in case of another washout or if the ground erodes. Hikers should also be aware hiking on the tracks is illegal, Harper said.
The news likely comes as a significant setback for Silverton businesses, a tourist-dependent economy that relies heavily on the riders the D&SNG brings into town.
A call to the Silverton Area Chamber of Commerce was not immediately returned Monday morning.
“It’s not good for anyone, unfortunately,” Harper said. “But we’ll get through it. It’s just another bump in the road. Hopefully (we’ll) get to Silverton toward the end of summer.”