By Justin Franz
CHAMA, N.M. — The sights, sounds and smell of steam railroading will be welcoming visitors to Chama, N.M., and Antonito, Colo., today as the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic begins regular excursion service — about three weeks later than normal. In early June, the railroad announced it was pushing its opening day from June 11 to July 1 due to dangerous drought and wildfire conditions across the southwest.
It was not the first time this year the old Denver & Rio Grande Western narrow gauge had been impacted by fire: In May, the nearby Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad suspended operations for three days due to the fire danger. One of that railroad’s coal-burning steam locomotives is believed to have started a 2018 wildfire that torched more than 55,000 acres (The railroad denies it was at fault, although earlier this year it paid the federal government millions of dollars to settle a lawsuit over it). Due to ever-worsening wildfire seasons in the southwest, both C&TS and D&SNG have converted a number of former D&RGW 2-8-2 locomotives to burn oil.
But after rain finally fell across the region, the C&TS felt confident enough to resume service. Trains are now running daily out of Chama and Antonito.
Editor’s Note: This story was changed to reflect the fact that New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham had to cancel a previously scheduled visit to the railroad on Friday.