By Justin Franz
DURANGO — The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad has agreed to pay $20 million for damages following a 2018 wildfire that investigators say was caused by one of the railroad’s coal-fired steam locomotives.
The 416 Fire started on June 18, 2018, and would burn more than 55,000 acres north of Durango. Investigators discovered that it was caused by a passing steam train, although four years later the railroad still denies it is responsible. In 2019, the federal government sued the railroad to cover firefighting costs. The case was expected to go to trial but on more than one occasion it was pushed back. Finally, this week, both parties decided to settle.
The railroad will pay the federal government $15 million upfront and another $5 million over the next ten years, the Durango Herald reports. The railroad has also agreed to a number of fire mitigation efforts including presenting a fire prevention plan annually to the U.S. Forest Service; hiring a full-time fire management officer; and to stop operating coal-fired steam locomotives during high fire danger.
That last requirement will have little impact on the railroad as it operates today: in the last few years, it has converted most of its steam locomotives to burn oil and has acquired a number of diesel locomotives, including MLWs from the White Pass & Yukon.
“The Durango & Silverton Railroad represents an important historic and cultural icon in southwest Colorado,” said U.S. Attorney for the District of Colorado Cole Finegan. “We intend for this settlement to enable the Railroad to continue to operate, but in a manner that will avoid causing future catastrophic wildfires. In addition, this agreement ensures fair compensation for the damages caused by the 416 Fire.”