Durango Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad Has Some Wonderfull Secrets

By Molly   •   March 7, 2017

The Durango Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad completes any trip to southwest Colorado. Soaring 200 feet above the river valley along the canyon wall, it’s an amazing view. The Durango Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad is an experience like none other. The train weaves in and out of the jagged San Juan Mountains. It is a very popular attraction for locals and tourists alike. There are a few lesser-known secrets about the train that will give you an experience that takes you back in time!

 

durango silverton narrow gauge railroad

 

Durango Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad – What Does “Narrow Gauge” Mean?

 

Nearly every railroad today has tracks that are the standard 4’ 8.5’’ apart. The Durango Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad is one of the only remaining railroads with tracks that are only three feet apart. This was no construction flaw! The narrower tracks allowed for easier navigation through the treacherous mountains between Durango and Silverton. Narrow tracks enable tighter turns and take up less space in the narrow canyon. Brilliantly engineered by General William Palmer, the construction of the railroad was ideal for the terrain of the San Juan Mountains.

 

durango silverton narrow gauge railroad

 

What makes the Durango Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad different?

 

In operation since 1882, the Durango Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad still uses most of its original equipment. There have been a few upgrades over time, but the coal-fired engines still fire up every morning in preparation for the arduous ascent into Silverton and back. This process can be seen early in the morning at the railroad’s roundhouse!

 

durango silverton narrow gauge railroad

 

Why was the Durango Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad originally built?

 

Surely the Durango Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad wasn’t just built to transport tourists between Silverton and Durango! In fact, the train was originally built to haul “silver by the ton” 46 miles between the appropriately named Silverton and Durango. General Palmer kept this railway project a secret by not allowing any photographs of the railway until it was complete. This was to reassure the public that a train on the side of a 200- foot canyon wasn’t complete insanity!

 

durango silverton narrow gauge railroad

How did the Durango and Silverton Railroad become a tourist attraction?

 

Throughout the years, the Durango Silverton Railroad experienced many hardships. Floods, snow, war, and unstable financial situations to name a few. During both WWI and WWII, the US government acquired operation of the railroad. They used it to process uranium rather than silver. The railroad was in great danger of being abandon until Hollywood discovered the area. Durango, Silverton, and the narrow gauge railroad soon became the backdrop of many movies. Featured titles include; Ticket to Tomahawk, Around the World in 80 Days, Across the Wide Missouri, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. This soon led to the registration of the Durango Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad as a National Landmark. As a result it increased its popularity as a tourist attraction.

durango silverton narrow gauge railroad

What makes the Durango Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad run?

 

In short, steam. Steam powers the engines of the Durango Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad trains. These locomotives were built in the 1920’s and today the train still operates coal-fired steam engines and diesel engines. Today the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad transports people between the two towns. There are a number of stops along the way for backpackers and hikers to exit and begin their trek into the wilderness.

 

durango silverton narrow gauge railroad

 

Does this sound like the trip of a lifetime? Mild to Wild Rafting and Jeep Tours books Durango Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad trips daily. We have few favorite trip options! First is our Trails & Rails package that gives you the best of the west with our popular Silverton Jeep tour included.  For those wanting a shorter day, we recommend our Bus to Silverton on the Million Dollar Highway, and the Train back to Durango. Lastly, those on a tight itinerary, can enjoy rafting and the train in one day, Rails & Rivers.  Whatever the option you chooose, we hand pick your seats to ensure you get the best seats available. Reserve your seats soon!

 

Interested In Learning More about the Train:

Best History Tours of the Southwest

Spend the Day on a Scenic Train

 

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