Despite being over 130 years old, the 3ft Narrow-Gauge Railroad Durango and Silverton Railroad has been in continuous operation since its inception, allowing passengers the chance to travel on one of the few lines in the US which has seen continuous use of coal-fired, steam locomotives. The railway, which has been declared a federally designated National Historic Landmark, operates the very same steam engines and vintage rolling stock today as it did in 1882, with the locomotives used on the line dating back as far as 1923. Indeed, the train itself is reminiscent of a bygone age, transporting the passengers who step on board back to the 'Wild West' era now so familiar to us from Hollywood movies. As the imposing black coal-fired locomotive pulls its distinctive yellow carriages through the remote, tree-lined mountain backdrop of Colorado, past azure flowing rivers and towering evergreens, the untouched landscape feels almost forgotten by the rest of the world, harking back to the late 19th century when the train was first used to transport silver and gold ore mined from the nearby San Juan Mountains.
While the Durango and Silverton trains still closely resemble the 'Old West' era engines that were once a fixture on this line, today the railroad is used solely as a tourist attraction, carrying visitors along the same spectacularly scenic route once used by the settlers, miners and cowboys of Colorado. Passengers are carried 45 miles from Durango, a small city in the south west of the state, close to the New Mexico border, to the historic mining town of Silverton, on a slow paced journey through the Animas Canyon. Over 3.5 hours it follows the twists and turns of the Animas River, and passengers are treated to stunning mountain views as the train journeys through valleys, climbing first to Hermosa then Rockwood, all the while working hard to traverse the winding, mountainous terrain. The train then travels through Needleton and Elk Park, both popular hiking destinations, where it passes the famous Colorado Trail before crossing the Animas River one final time and steaming into historic Silverton. The journey varies slightly in the off-season, with a 'Cascade Canyon Excursion' taking visitors to the beautiful, snow covered Cascade Canyon Wye, a real life winter wonderland.
The vintage closed passenger cars offer restroom facilities and heating in the colder months, as well as oversized windows which are perfect for viewing the dramatic scenery of the Colorado wilderness. The train also boasts open gondola cars which feature bench-style seating, and provide passengers with unobstructed panoramic views of the stunning San Juan mountains, breathtaking canyons and the emerald Animas River.
The Durango and Silverton Narrow-Gauge Railroad also operates two rail museums, the D&SNG Museum in Durango, and the Silverton Freight Yard Museum in Silverton. Both provide informative exhibitions and feature historic locomotives and railway equipment used on the Durango and Silverton line, well worth a visit if free time allows.