DEL NORTE — The Rio Grande Scenic Railroad has been a part of the San Luis Valley since its inception in 1878.
According to the history of the rail line, it was first installed as a means to transport mining ore from neighboring towns like Creede and Summitville, lumber from South Fork, and agricultural harvests and cattle.
The line traveled from as far west as Durango, as far north as Creede and as far east as Denver. It even traveled south to Santa Fe.
In the history provided on the Rio Grande Scenic Railroad website it states, “The Rio Grande Scenic Railroad begins in Alamosa and travels on historic narrow-gauge tracks over La Veta Pass. The train rails were completed June 22, 1878. Alamosa was quickly put on the map thanks to this narrow-gauge rail supplying ore, lumber, cattle, sheep, and farm products to the developing valley and, in turn, shipping out agricultural and mining products. From 1890 to 1950,
Alamosa hummed day and night with the activity of both passenger and freight trains from Denver, Durango, Santa Fe, Salida and Creede. After the 1950s, the track was used exclusively for freight until becoming a member of Premier Rail Collection in 2006.”
It was then in 2007 that the train was turned into a destination passenger train through the combined efforts of President Ed Ellis and musician Michael Martin Murphey. A lot has changed in the following years, including the rail line being sold from the South Fork Depot to the Wagon Wheel Gap and then to another local train enthusiast Donald Shank. Shank created a passenger train tour until putting it up for sale in the summer of 2017.
Throughout the past several years, Rio Grande County has worked with surrounding communities to try and purchase the line from Shank but have been unsuccessful. In a meeting held Tuesday, Nov. 12, by the Upper Rio Grande Economic Development group, Rio Grande County Commissioner John Noffsker updated the organization on the most recent news, which was that the entire line, including the one from Alamosa to La Veta had filed for bankruptcy.
“The Rio Grande Scenic Railroad is in receivership. Ed Eillis has been fired and they have shut down the excursion train. We have done an analysis as best we could and the economic impact on the Valley from not having the train is huge. Right now, it is in federal bankruptcy court and there is a lot of technical things going on. At the end of the day, we are hoping to get to have a chance in court because this railroad owes close to $2 million in property taxes in several counties,” stated Noffsker.
“We at first thought of it as money that was lost, but that is not true. It will take a lot of work, but we may be able to recover a lot of that money. The main goal is to keep an operating railroad here in the Valley. Anyone who has ever dealt with the railroad, knows that it can be a mess, but Rio Grande County has kind of taken the lead on this and we are working to get this into the proper court. We are trying to determine whether or not the bankruptcy court is the proper venue or whether or not to try and acquire the line.”
There are many details pertaining to the topic at hand that cannot be disclosed at this time, but more details will be reported as they become available.