The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge sent two trains and 750 passengers to Silverton on Thursday, 41 days after being shut down for the 416 Fire and extreme fire conditions.
“It’s exciting to see so many people,” said Al Harper, owner of the train. “I’m just excited to see all the activity and all the happy people. It’s a great day.”
Well-wishers waived at passengers as the coal-fired locomotives blew their whistles and rolled out of the station at 8 a.m. and 8:45 a.m. in Durango. Some residents stopped their workdays to come out of their offices and waive to passengers as the first train made its way through downtown Durango.
The 416 Fire has taken a toll on the local economy, and many residences and businesses are happy to see fire conditions mitigated and the D&SNG return to full service. The town of Silverton, about 50 miles north of Durango, is heavily reliant on the train delivering tens of thousands of passengers every summer.
The cause of the 416 Fire remains under investigation, but neighbors who live near the train tracks where the fire started said a cinder from a locomotive started the wildfire, which had grown to more than 51,000 acres.
The railroad has entered into a deal with Durango Fire Protection District to provide extra firefighters. The train is also about to sign a contract to acquire two diesel locomotives that would be able to take haul full-length trains to Silverton during high-fire danger, Harper said.
The railroad is also converting a coal-fired engine to an oil burner.
“We’re going to paint those three locomotives green in an effort to let people know we’re serious and committed to making this work,” Harper said.
In the meantime, pop cars and water tankers will follow more closely to locomotives and keep a watchful eye on potential spot fires. The railroad also contracted a helicopter to patrol the tracks.
“If there is so much as a spark, we’ll catch it much quicker,” Harper said.
He added: “We’ve had people waving from cars and lining the streets. I think the community as a whole is really excited about getting the trains back in operation.”