The Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad is a 64 mile, steam-powered narrow gauge railroad located in the Rocky Mountains along the Colorado/New Mexico border, roughly halfway between Denver and Albuquerque. It was built in 1880, purchased by the states of Colorado and New Mexico in 1970. It now operates as a tourist attraction during the summer and early fall. The railroad is a Registered National Historic Site and a Registered Cultural Site by the state of New Mexico.
Copyright: Jim Hughes-USDA Forest Service
Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad, ³old 484² steaming up at Antonito, CO
Two trains operate seven days a week from mid-May through mid-October. There are seven different ride options:
Chama, NM or Antonito, CO to the midway point (Osier, CO) and return
Chama, NM to Antonito, CO by train, with return to Chama by bus
Chama, NM to Antonito, CO by train, with return to Chama by train
Antonito, CO to Chama, NM by bus, with return to Antonito by train
Antonito, CO to Cumbres Pass, CO by train, with return to Antonito by bus
Antonito, CO or Chama, NM to the opposite terminal by train with your own
Also available: 2 day/2 way trip ticket - 1st day, pay full fare; 2nd day,
receive a 50% discount
On all rides a southwestern style lunch can be purchased during the one hour stop at Osier. Buses are comfortable full-sized coaches with air conditioning.
Round Trip Schedule
Chama to Osier and return:
Leave Chama..........10:30 a.m.
Arrive Osier............... 1:00 p.m.
Arrive Chama........... 4:20 p.m.
Antonito to Osier and return:
Leave Antonito.........10:00 a.m.
Arrive Osier...............12:45 p.m.
Arrive Antonito............4:45 p.m.
Through Trip Schedule:
Leave Chama by train..........10:30 a.m.
Arrive Chama in bus...............6:05 p.m.
Leave Chama by bus...............8:00 a.m.
Arrive Chama by train.............4:20 p.m.
Leave Antonito by bus.............9:15 a.m.
Arrive Antonito by train.............4:45 p.m.
Leave Antonito by train..........10:00 a.m.
*Arrive Antonito by bus.............4:00 p.m.
*On this trip passengers disembark the train and board the bus at Cumbres Pass, CO.
LOCATION AND SCENIC FEATURES
The terminals of the railroad are located in the small towns of Antonito, CO and Chama, NM. The elevation of both places is approximately 7,800 feet. The railroad crosses the Colorado/New Mexico border 11 times.
Scenic features along the line include the Toltec Gorge, Cumbres Pass, Phantom Curve, and the Wolf Creek and Los Pinos River valleys. The tracks run through Toltec Gorge on a shelf blasted from solid rock some 600 feet above Los Pinos River. A 350 foot tunnel is also located at the gorge. Cumbres Pass (14 miles northeast of Chama) is the highest pass crossed by any scheduled passenger train in the United States. The train must climb to an elevation of 10,015 feet, and the grade between Chama and the pass is very steep, rising at a rate of 4 feet for every hundred feet of track - this is known as a four percent grade.
Although the locomotives used on the line generate up to 2,000 horsepower, 2 locomotives are required to pull the train up the steep western slope of Cumbres Pass on busy days! Phantom Curve, several miles east of the gorge, is an area of heavily eroded volcanic material, where grotesque rock formations tower above the track. Along Wolf Creek, above Chama, the track passes through forests of aspen and spruce and crosses a 100 foot high trestle and climbs above lush mountain meadows which are used extensively for cattle grazing during the summer months.
MOTIVE POWER, RAILROAD EQUIPMENT AND STRUCTURES
There are presently 10 steam locomotives on the railroad (6 in operation) all built by Baldwin Locomotive Works in Philadelphia. There are 5 identical 2-8-2 (supported by a 2 wheel leading truck, 8 drive wheels, and a 2 wheel trailing truck) "Mikado" type locomotives built in 1925 which weigh 286,000 pounds each when loaded with coal and water. Of these 5 locomotives, 4 are in operation; numbers 484, 487, 488, and 489. Four other 2-8-2 locomotives began as standard gauge machines built in 1902 and were converted to narrow gauge engines between 1928 and 1930. Of these, only number 497 is in service. Finally, there is the "mudhen", number 463, an older 2-8-2, built in 1903 and donated to the town of Antonito by movie star Gene Autry. This locomotive was restored and placed in service in 1994.
While climbing the steep grades on the line, the locomotives burn 5,000 pounds of coal and boil 4,00 gallons of water in one hour! the coal is shoveled into the firebox by a single fireman. Because of the high altitudes at which this work is performed - from 7,800 to over 10,000 feet - firemen on the Cumbres and Toltec must be in good physical condition.
There are a variety of passenger accommodations on the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad: replicas of traditional passenger coaches of the 1880's (home built by the railroad); open-air gondola cars for the adventuresome riders; and original freight cars, which have been converted for passenger service. The C&TSRR owns the largest collection of narrow gauge rolling stock in North America, comprised of all kinds of vintage freight cars, maintenance equipment, snow-fighting gear and antique mail and passenger cars which are stored in the yard at Chama.
Historic structures dating as far back as 1880 are located along the tracks. The oldest buildings are the log bunkhouses constructed for track maintenance crews. One of the most remarkable old structures is a wooden coal "tipple" (loading tower) at Chama, the last of its kind still operating in the U.S. the partially razed brick roundhouse at Chama still houses some of the locomotives and repair facilities. a modern shop building, built in 1978, is located near the old roundhouse.
There are five traditional wooden water tanks along the line, most of which are fed by gravity from springs on the hillsides. Two large steel trestles and a steel bridge carry the track across mountain streams. The largest of these is over 400 feet long and stands 137 feet above Cascade Creek. The original depot building is still in use in Chama. The depot in Antonito was built to traditional standards in 1977, and at Osier, a large modern dining facility was dedicated on June 30, 1989.
THE HISTORY SINCE 1880
The Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad is a 64 mile segment of what was once the San Juan extension of the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad. The San Juan Extension was built between 1875 and 1883, between Denver and the silver mines of southwest Colorado for the purpose of carrying mining supplies and passengers into the "boom town" of Silverton, and carrying the silver and gold out. The San Juan Extension stretched for hundreds of miles throughout the mountains of Colorado and northern New Mexico, and originally served not only the mining camps, but the logging operations in the San Juan Mountains. The line also carried livestock and agricultural products originating at many locations along the right of way.
Until World War II, when the highways in southwestern Colorado and northwestern New Mexico were upgraded, the railroad was the only effective public transportation. From 1882 until January 31, 1951, passenger trains made daily trips in each direction over Cumbres Pass, connecting with other trains in Durango and Alamosa, CO. These trains carried mail and express freight baggage as well as passengers. Freight service continued until the mid-1960's, largely due to the development of oil and gas fields near Farmington, NM. At that time, the railroad was the only means of transporting the large pipes used in the development of the oil fields.
Originally, the 500 miles of railroad between Denver and Silverton were built to narrow gauge. Any railroad with its rails closer together than 4 feet, 8 1/2 inches (standard gauge) was referred to as narrow gauge. The rails of the C&TSRR are 3 feet apart, the most common narrow gauge in the U.S. Narrow gauge railroads have the advantage of being able to negotiate sharper curves. This is an important advantage when building a railroad in mountainous terrain - since less earth is moved, construction costs are reduced drastically, sometimes to half of what it would cost to build an equivalent standard gauge line. Since little cost is saved when building across flat country, the term "narrow gauge" has become almost synonymous with "mountain railroad".
Over the years, most of the original railroad from Denver was converted to standard gauge. Only the section between Alamosa and Durango and the branches to Farmington and Silverton remained narrow gauge. Thus, this part of the country has become a sort of "Mecca" for railroad enthusiasts who want to watch and photograph rare antique narrow gauge steam trains, operating in an environment virtually unchanged from that of the last century. Recently the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic railroad was presented with a plaque by the American Society of Civil Engineers, recognizing the engineering feat of building the railroad in the 1880's with primitive methods through the rugged San Juan Mountains. This railroad is among a very limited list of recipients of the Society's award.
In 1967, long after the mining boom had ceased and automobiles had become the preferred mode of transportation, the Alamosa to Durango mainline came up for abandonment. Concerned rail fans, who recognized the line as something special, banded together to save it. A small group was organized with the objective of making the railroad a National Park.
Although the National Park Service inspected the line and issued a report, it concluded that the railroad should be preserved as a tourist attraction by private enterprise. Then, after a dedicated lobbying and public relations campaign, the group convinced the states of Colorado and New Mexico to purchase the most scenic segment of the line - the 64 miles between Chama and Antonito.
The two states bought the railroad for $537,120 (the approximate scrap value of the tracks, structures and equipment) on the premise that their investment could be recovered by scrapping the line if its operation as a tourist attraction proved unsuccessful. Their operating concept was to hire a qualified concessionaire to run the railroad without any net cost to the states. Remarkably, this concept has worked quite well. the railroad began tourist operations on a limited basis in 1971, when 8,700 people rode the trains. Since then the C&TSRR has become well established, meets its operating costs and is involved in numerous restoration projects and improvements. Currently, over 59,000 passengers board the train each year.
MOVIE LOCATIONS, CHARTERS AND SPECIAL EXCURSIONS
Because the railroad uses antique equipment and passes through dramatic scenery, the train is frequently chartered by motion picture companies for filming westerns. Recent examples include The Lone Ranger, Bite the Bullet, Shootout, Showdown, Missouri Breaks, White Buffalo, The Good Guys and the Bad Guys, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and Wyatt Earp. The C&TSRR has also appeared in numerous television commercials.
The train is available for private charter as well, with a variety of trip options and an extensive collection of authentic antique freight, passenger and work train equipment to choose from.
Special excursions include winter weekend runs using a restored antique steam powered rotary snowplow (the only one in operation in the lower 48), summertime moonlight rides and for the railroad enthusiast and an occasional "freight train" with an impressive collection of historic equipment.
Restoration & Preservation:
The Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad is one of the most ambitious railroad preservation projects in the world. The newest plan, which will be a joint effort by the Railroad Commission, the Friends of Cumbres and Toltec Railroad, and the railroad Operator, is the construction of a replica roundhouse on the original nine stall foundation, complete with a working steam powered turntable. The old Colorado & Southern RR turntable has already been donated by Elitch Gardens Amusement Parks. When this project is finished the C&TSRR will have all the structures and facilities historically necessary to operate an independent railroad - intact, functional and located on their original sites, thus making the C&TSRR one of only two complete "living history" narrow gauge railroad systems in the country!
Restoration of the Chama station building began in late March, 1998, and two new replica passenger cars are currently under construction. Meanwhile, Friends of the Cumbres and Toltec Railroad Association (1,200 members strong) will continue restoring the original section houses situated in remote locations along the track.
The C&TSRR will soon start an educational program, designed to keep the restoration, operation and maintenance of steam railroad equipment from becoming a lost art. The railroad's highly qualified expert staff will train students for positions as engineers, firemen and machinists, as well as teach the mechanics of restoring narrow gauge steam RR equipment. The C&TSRR will also host important visiting exhibits - early June '98 brings the Galloping Goose, a self-propelled gasoline powered rail bus built by the Rio Grande Southern RR in the 1930's.
Entertainment, Educational Demonstrations and Fun Events:
As part of an effort to expand the C&TSRR in the direction of a "living history museum" and to increase ridership from 58,000 passengers per year to 100,000 passenger per year by 2001, many new historically interpretive demonstrations and forms of entertainment are being organized. There will be traditional crafts demonstrations by local artisans and skits involving the area's rich folklore and history at both railroad stations. Storytellers and period musical acts will ride the trains, and during the one hour stop at Osier there will be sheepdog demonstrations and local guides will teach fly fishing technique. And for a truly unique "living history" experience, passengers will be able to rent the remote section houses along the track (occupied by railroad track workers in the 1800's) which have been restored for rustic overnight accommodation.
Train enthusiasts may also charter their own private caboose. Choose between a comfortably remodeled version which seats twelve or an authentic rustic caboose with seating for ten. Engine cab rides are also possible. Ride with the Engineer and Fireman over select portions of the line for an additional fee. Only one passenger at a time is permitted in the cab and reservations are a must.
The C&TSRR also sponsors a "Great Beat the Train Over the Mountain" bicycle race, a "Pony Express" relay horse race on a road that parallels the tracks and a Big Horn Tent City historic reenactment track side, within the Carson National Forest. The railroad will be cooperating with area businesses to offer adventure packages such as wildlife photo safaris, overnight trail riding, fly fishing, hiking and wilderness camping opportunities. Special winter train excursions will tie in with local skiing, snowmobiling and hot air balloon events; and moonlight train rides with cowboy cookout suppers and campfire sing-a longs will be offered more frequently during summer months.
PLAN YOUR TRIP
Food: snacks and souvenirs are available on board. Trains stop at Osier near midday, where a delicious southwestern lunch may be purchased, or you may bring along a picnic. You'll have time for a short walk or to take great photos as the two locomotives exchange trains for the return trip.
What to Bring: It can get cool in the mountains during the summer. Dress in layers. The trains are not heated. Also, remember that high altitude puts you at greater risk for sunburn. Bring sunscreen, especially if you plan to ride in the open observation car even for a little while.
Handicap Facilities: Special cars with wheelchair lifts are available. Please reserve 7 days in advance, and notify the agent that you will need this service.
Restrooms: Restrooms are available at both stations, on the trains and at the Osier lunch stop.
Cancellations and Refunds: Cancellations may be made up to 48 hours before departure without charge. Reservations canceled less than 48 hours before departure are absolutely not refundable.
Restrictions: Alcoholic beverages, smoking and the use of tobacco are not permitted.
Group and Charter Information: Please call the Chama station for information on group rates (20 or more people), special train charters, movie or commercial filming and net rates for travel agents and tour operators. Call toll free: 1.888.CUMBRES.
All excursions are subject to operating conditions. Schedule, prices and equipment are subject to change without notice.
FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION
Details, arrangements and photography, contact:
Mary Bartholomew, Marketing
Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad
P.O. Box 789
Chama, NM 87520
Directions from Antonito, CO: Antonito is 28 miles south of Alamosa on Highway 285. The depot is located at the south end of town.
Directions from Chama, NM: Chama is 110 miles north of Santa Fe on Highway 17. The depot is located at the south end of town.