Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad

The Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad, often abbreviated as the C&TSRR, is a 3 ft (914 mm) narrow-gauge heritage railroad that operates on 64 miles (103 km) of track between Antonito, Colorado and Chama, New Mexico, United States. The railroad is named for two geographical features along the route, the 10,015-foot (3,053 m)-high Cumbres Pass and the Toltec Gorge. Originally part of the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad's narrow-gauge network, the line has been jointly owned by the states of Colorado and New Mexico since 1970.

Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad
Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad.png
HeadquartersChama, New Mexico
LocaleConejos County and
Archuleta County
in Colorado and
Rio Arriba County
in New Mexico, United States
Dates of operation1970–present
Track gauge3 ft (914 mm)
Length64 miles
Denver & Rio Grande Railroad
San Juan Extension
Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad excursion train headed by locomotive 484 in 2015.jpg
Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad is located in Colorado
Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad
Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad is located in New Mexico
Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad
Nearest cityAntonito, Colorado and Chama, New Mexico
Coordinates36°54′N 106°35′W / 36.900°N 106.583°W / 36.900; -106.583Coordinates: 36°54′N 106°35′W / 36.900°N 106.583°W / 36.900; -106.583
Area1,430 acres (580 ha)
Built1880 (1880)
ArchitectDenver and Rio Grande Western Railroad
Baldwin Locomotive Works
Architectural styleLate 19th And Early 20th Century American Movements
MPSRailroads in Colorado, 1858-1948 MPS
NRHP reference No.73000462[1] (original)
07000374[1] (increase)
CSRHP No.5AA.664 / 5CN.65
Significant dates
Added to NRHPFebruary 16, 1973
Boundary increaseApril 24, 2007
Designated NHLDOctober 16, 2012[2][3]
Designated NMSRCPNovember 20, 1969


On February 20, 1880, track crews of the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad began to lay the first rails of the San Juan Extension going south from Alamosa, Colorado, toward Antonito, Colorado, arriving in March of that year. The company chose the narrow gauge of three feet instead of the standard gauge of four feet eight and a half inches. This was because the narrow gauge was cheaper to build, and a narrow gauge railway can accommodate tighter radius curves. This allowed laying track where the standard gauge would not fit. From Antonito, the line continued west to Chama, New Mexico, arriving there on December 31, 1880. The track had come 64 miles, through two tunnels, over a 10,000-foot mountain pass, and skirted a 600-foot gorge.[4] The line then went on towards Durango, Colorado. The purpose of this extension was to tap into the mineral resources around the Silverton, Colorado, area.[4]

Once the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad arrived in Chama, other railroad companies were formed to take advantage of the forests around the area. This created a flourishing logging economy to for the small town. There were lumber mills located to the west and south of Chama. These mills provided a steady stream of revenue for the railroad lasting until abandonment in the late 1960s.[5]

After World War II, there was an oil boom in Farmington, New Mexico. This boom provided a surge of revenue for the railroad. This revenue consisted of 60 car pipe trains going west from Antonito. The Gramps Oil Fields of southern Colorado also provided oil for the trains to carry from Chama to Antonito. The lumber mills also provided a steady stream of revenue, although this was not as important as the oil. This increase in revenue is what saved the line from abandonment.

All of these successes had some drawbacks. The major issue with the line was Cumbres Pass itself. Cumbres Pass is just over 10,000 feet above sea level. The high elevation and various other factors led to many terrible snow storms. This prompted the railroad to purchase machines called “Rotary Snowplows”. The two that were used on the Cumbres Pass line were Rotary OM and Rotary OY. Both rotaries are still in existence in Chama, New Mexico, but historically they would be dispatched out of Alamosa. Every five or six years, the winter season would see as much as 500 inches of snow fall on Cumbres. These terrible snow storms were a huge financial burden for the railroad. The “Granddaddy of All Snowstorms” [6] hit in the winter of 1951–1952. This was the worst recorded winter on the line and one of the deciding factors when abandonment was considered in the 1960s.

In September 1968, the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad filed for abandonment of the narrow gauge line. In April 1969, legislature was signed in New Mexico that provided a way for the state of New Mexico to buy the track between Chama and Antonito. In 1970, Colorado passed similar legislation. The two states took joint ownership of the line and by 1971 the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad was formed.

Notable incidentsEdit

2002 shutdownsEdit

In 2002, the C&TSRR was shut down twice, first in the spring to resolve track bed issues. In the summer, operations were suspended again because of wildfire dangers.[7]

Lobato trestle fireEdit

On June 23, 2010, an unknown fire severely damaged Lobato Trestle, a deck girder bridge located approximately 4 miles east of Chama. While the bridge was out of service, the C&TSRR operated limited services from the Chama end while trains from Antonito only traveled to Osier and back.[8] After undergoing extensive refurbishment, the bridge was reopened on June 20, 2011.[9]

National Historic LandmarkEdit

In 1973, the Cumbres & Toltec was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and the boundaries were increased in 2007.[1] In 2012, the railroad was designated a National Historic Landmark, for its engineering, its well-preserved infrastructure and equipment, and the role of the railroad in the development of the region it served.[10]

Current operationsEdit

The Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad operates between late May and late October with two trains (one in each direction) departing each morning from Antonito and Chama. Both trains meet at Osier Colorado for lunch. At Osier, lunch is served to passengers in a modern dining hall. From there, passengers have the option to continue on to the other side of the railroad, or they can switch trains and return to their point of origin. Once the westbound train arrives at Cumbres Pass, passengers have the option to board motorcoaches to return to Antonito, or they can save an hour and continue into Chama. The continental divide trail brings hikers through Cumbres Pass as well. The railroad offers these hikers a ride down the mountain from the pass if desired. At the end of the day at both ends, motorcoaches are again provided for passengers who came from the opposite end. The motorcoach ride is about one hour long.

In addition to the through service, the C&TSRR operates various special excursions during the season such as dinner trains.[11] On certain days during the holiday season, the railroad offers special "Santa Trains" from both Chama and Antonito and guests are encouraged to bring gifts and/or food for the less fortunate.[12]

Operator changesEdit

After the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad was formed in 1971, a bi-state agency, the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad Commission was created. Railroad operations were then contracted to third party rail operators. In 2012, after long discussions with other third parties bidding to take over, the Commission formed its own operating company, Cumbres and Toltec Operating LLC[13] This is when they hired John Bush, a veteran of the railroad, to become president on December 13, 2012.[14]

Friends of the C&TSRREdit

In 1988, a nonprofit organization called the Friends of the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad was established to preserve the history of the railroad and help maintain infrastructure and rolling stock. The Friends of the C&TSRR also participates in various education programs and provides the railroad guides, known as docents, who inform passengers about historical aspects of the railroad as well as locations of interest.[15]

Route descriptionEdit

Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad
to Alamosa (San Luis and Rio Grande Railroad)
Mud Tunnel
Rock Tunnel
Cascade Creek trestle
Lobato trestle
to Durango (Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad)

Locations along the lineEdit

Chama to OsierEdit

Chama YardEdit

The Chama yard is located at milepost 344.12. Here the railroad stores most of their freight cars and both rotary snowplows, Rotary OY and Rotary OM. On the east side is part of the original roundhouse from the D&RGW. A fire burned most of the roundhouse; what remains is used as storage for parts. K-37 497 is stored here.[16] On the far side of the old roundhouse section is the shops where the engines are serviced and prepared for the next day. The shops have two stalls and can have up to two engines inside simultaneously. On the west side of the yard is the original depot from the late 1800s. Here train tickets can be purchased. There is a gift shop with various items for sale. On the south end of the yard, over 100 freight cars are visible. The yard is open and can be toured by anyone. About 40 of the cars in the yard are operational.[17]

C&TS#487 in the Chama Yard

From Chama, the railroad proceeds northeast after crossing Rio Chama. About 1 mile (1,600 m) later, the railroad begins up the mountain on a grade averaging 4%. The first siding on the line is at Lobato (MP: 339.99). Here are remnants of a stock pen and a water tank made for a movie in the 1970s. The tank was used later in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The water tank was knocked over in 2006, succumbing to age and high winds. Lobato Trestle is located at Lobato. It the second-highest trestle on the line, built in 1883. Due to weight restrictions, only one locomotive at a time is allowed to cross. Hence all double-headers must separate and rejoin on the other side. The bridge was rebuilt in 2012 after a fire nearly destroyed it.

From here to Cumbres, the railroad operates on the north side of Wolf Creek. There are several old stations along the line. The first is Dalton (MP: 335.5). There is nothing at Dalton besides the station sign. Next on the journey to the top at Cumbres, the train passes Cresco Siding and water tank (MP 335.5). Just before this, the track crosses the state line the first time. This water tank is used when operating smaller engines such as No. 315 and No. 168, and for rotary trains. The route then enters a small canyon past Hamilton's Point. Exiting the canyon, the track makes a turn to the northwest and up the Wolf Creek through Coxo. At Coxo, there is a short siding for maintenance equipment and a station sign/ At a narrow point of the valley, the track makes a horseshoe turn up to Windy Point. Windy Point is an outcrop of volcanic rock where the wind blows so hard, the smoke from the trains often will blow towards the front of the train instead of the rear. From there, the tracks have less than a quarter of a mile to Cumbres Pass, the highest point on the line

At Cumbres (MP 330.60), elevation 10,015 ft (3,053 m), is the Car Inspector's House, Water Standpipe, remnants of the extensive snow shed, and the Section House, which replaced the original depot after it was demolished in the 1950s. Cumbres is the highest point on the railroad and the highest elevation of any narrow gauge railroad in North America. Upon reaching the pass, the engine must take on water as it has used about ¾ of its water to this point. After taking on water and a short brake test, the train departs to the east and begins the downhill section. At “Tanglefoot Curve” the track doubles back on itself to lose elevation gradually. Here, the trains going downhill will perform a boiler blowdown. This is where the engine releases steam from the boiler to clear sediments at the bottom of the boiler. From there the track turns north up the Los Piños Valley.

The track continues a gentle descent on the average 1.45% grade to the north until it reaches Los Piños tank. This tank is always full and is used for small engines and rotary trains. The track takes a gentle loop off to the west and comes back to the east at the station of Los Piños (MP: 324.8). There is nothing here except a siding and the station sign. The track then turns back north towards Osier Colorado. Just before Osier at Milepost 320, the track crosses Cascade Trestle. This is the highest trestle on the entire line sitting at 137 ft (42m) above the river below. The train then stops at Osier Colorado (MP: 318.40).

Antonito to OsierEdit

C&TSRR steam locomotive #484

This section covers the eastern portion of the line from the small cattle and junction town of Antonito to Osier, the midpoint of the line.

Antonito (MP 280.70) is a small company town of the former railroad main line. It is home to the C&TSRR car shop, a water tank, and other relics. Most of the facilities were built by the Cumbres & Toltec, since the original rail yard, wye, and station were not sold to the states of Colorado and New Mexico.

Shortly after leaving the station, the train heads straight for 3 miles (4.8 km), until coming into some hills. Shortly thereafter, the train crosses Ferguson's Trestle (MP 285.87), named for a man who was hung from a locomotive there. The original trestle was featured in the 1988 television movie Where the Hell's That Gold?, starring Willie Nelson and Delta Burke. In filming, an unplanned explosion mishap occurred and the bridge was burned down. Traffic was halted for a week while the C&TSRR built a temporary bridge. Next winter the trestle was rebuilt, matching the original. About three miles (5 km) later, the train makes the first of 11 crossings into New Mexico, and climbs a ledge up to a lava mesa. Lava (291.55) has the old water tank from Antonito, which was moved here in 1971. The track goes around a horseshoe curve that is also used as a reversing loop to turn the rotary snow plow trains from Chama.

Heading west, the track rounds Whiplash Curve, a double horseshoe curve. About 1 mi (1,600 m) from Whiplash Curve lie the sidings and wye at Big Horn. Past Big Horn the train loops around the sides of mountains going through horseshoe curves before reaching the first water stop at Sublette.

Sublette is an abandoned railroad section camp, consisting of a log bunk house, a section house, a siding, and other buildings. There was a water tank at the western end of the siding. Today, in its place is a standpipe. After filling the tender with water, the train slowly creeps into lush aspen groves.

After departing Sublette is Toltec Siding, which in the 1950s was the meeting place for oil well pipe trains moving between Chama and Farmington to Alamosa. Shortly afterwards, trains pass through Mud Tunnel, which is unique, because it is lined with wooden pillars, since it is bored through soft volcanic ash. When the beams in the tunnel collapsed, the D&RGW made a "shoo fly" (a temporary by-pass) to allow passengers and small cars to be moved around the tunnel to an awaiting train. After passing through this, trains pass around Phantom Curve and through Calico Cut, then slow when entering the longer Rock Tunnel. Trains exit the tunnel, entering Toltec Gorge, where the track is 600 ft (180 m) above the river. The line then follows the river to Osier.

Rolling stockEdit

Steam LocomotivesEdit

All of the steam locomotives operating on the C&TSRR are former Denver & Rio Grande Western locomotives. The railroad owns four classes of steam locomotives. The K-37, K-36 and K-27 engines are all outside frame 2-8-2 "Mikado" engines built by Baldwin Locomotive Works. The T-12 No. 168 is a 4-6-0 "Ten Wheeler" type inside frame engine also built by Baldwin Locomotive Works. This is the oldest steam locomotive owned by the railroad. Another engine that operates on the railroad is D&RGW No. 315. The 315 is a C-18 class inside frame 2-8-0 "Consolidation" type locomotive. It is owned by the Durango Railroad Historical Society, but it is on indefinite loan to the C&TSRR.[16]

Engine Number Class Operational Anticipated Return to Service Date
168 T-12 Yes N/A
315* C-18 Yes N/A
463 K-27 Yes N/A
483 K-36 No Unknown
484 K-36 Yes N/A
487 K-36 Yes N/A
488 K-36 Yes N/A
489 K-36 No Due to COVID-19, a return to service date is currently unknown. Currently down for routine maintenance and installation of a new smokebox.
492 K-37 No Unknown
494 K-37 No Unknown
495 K-37 No Unknown
497 K-37 No Unknown

* 315 is not owned by the C&TS, but is included in the list due to frequent operation and the indefinite loan.

Diesel LocomotivesEdit

The C&TSRR owns 2 class DE B+B-22 diesel locomotives for emergency use if the steam engines are inoperative. They are also used for operations outside the normal operating season. They are numbered 15 and 19. They were built By General Electric in 1943. They both came from the Oahu Railway and Land Company. The number 19 was purchased in 1972 and the number 15 came to the railroad in 2013.

Rotary SnowplowsEdit

The railroad owns two rotary snowplows, Rotary OY and Rotary OM. Rotary OM was purchased in the late 1800s by the D&RGW and has served the line ever since. It was last run in the 1970s and has not been run since then because of mechanical issues. Rotary OY was built in the 1920s and has served in several places on the line. It was last run in late winter of 2020 to begin the 50th anniversary of the formation of the Cumbres and Toltec Railroad. There are no current plans to run the rotary again, but it is in good condition and fully functional.[16]

D&RGW #168Edit

In 2016, D&RGW #168 arrived in Antonito, Colorado from Colorado Springs Colorado for restoration to working order. The engine had been on display for a long time in a public park, but was in good condition. Restoration began in March 2017 and was completed in September 2019. The restoration project was headed up by Cumbres and Toltec Special Projects department and lead by Assistant General Manager Efstathios Papas. The project cost $508,000 and took 27 months to complete. The railroad intends to use this engine frequently in normal service as much as possible.[16]

The interior of a C&TSRR steam locomotive #504 passenger car

Passenger carsEdit

For passenger services, the Cumbres & Toltec operates a mixture of flat roofed and clerestory cars with interiors corresponding with the railroad's three classes of service: Coach, Deluxe (formerly Tourist class) and Parlor.[18] In 2019, the car shop in Antonito Colorado finished the first in a line of new clerestory cars that will serve as standard passenger cars and new Parlor cars. This is part of an effort to retire the older flat roofed cars due to their age.[16] The C&TSRR also operates observation gondolas as well as special coaches configured to accommodate wheelchairs and house concession areas.[19]


A typical C&TSRR train includes:[20]

  • 1 K-27 or K-36 2-8-2 steam locomotive (A second locomotive is normally added depending on the length of the train)
  • 3 Coaches (On some days, extra coaches are added to meet demand)
  • 1 ADA/Concession coach
  • 1 Observation gondola
  • 1 Deluxe class coach
  • 1 Parlor class coach

Freight wagonsEdit

The Cumbres & Toltec also owns a varied collection of former D&RGW narrow-gauge freight wagons for display and use in nostalgic railtours.[21]

In popular cultureEdit

Over the years, the railroad was featured in several documentaries and films.[22] Among these are:

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. July 9, 2010.
  2. ^ "National Historic Landmarks Survey, Colorado" (PDF). National Park Service. Retrieved December 11, 2016.
  3. ^ "National Historic Landmarks Survey, New Mexico" (PDF). National Park Service. Retrieved December 11, 2016.
  4. ^ a b LeMassena, R. A. (1984). Colorado's mountain railroads. Sundance Publications. ISBN 0-913582-35-2. OCLC 11876423.
  5. ^ Chappell, Gordon S. (1971). Logging along the Denver & Rio Grande: narrow gauge logging railroads of southwestern Colorado and northern New Mexico. Colorado Railroad Museum. OCLC 251717.
  6. ^ Norwood, John B. (1983). Rio Grande Narrow Gauge. Heimburger House Publishing Company.
  7. ^ "Colorado Central Magazine - The monthly magazine for the illuminated - Cumbres & Toltec will steam on this summer". 2003-06-01. Retrieved 2015-05-01.
  8. ^ "Fire hits Cumbres and Toltec train line". The Denver Post. 2010-06-24. Retrieved 2018-05-28.
  9. ^ Writer, Juan Carlos Rodriguez | Journal Staff. "Scenic Railroad Back in Service". Retrieved 2018-05-28.
  10. ^ "NRHP nomination for Denver & Rio Grande Railroad San Juan Extension (Boundary Increase)". National Archive. Retrieved 2020-04-07.
  11. ^ a b Railroad, The Cumbres & Toltec Scenic. "Full Steam Ahead! Make 2018 Your Year to Ride the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad!". GlobeNewswire News Room. Retrieved 2018-05-27.
  12. ^ "Santa Trains". Retrieved 2018-11-19.
  13. ^ "16cumbres.html".
  14. ^ "New President - Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad". Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad. 2012-12-05. Retrieved 2018-05-27.
  15. ^ "Friends of the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad". Center for Nonprofit Excellence in Central New Mexico. Retrieved 2018-05-27.
  16. ^ a b c d e Papas, Efstathios. Personal Interview. March 11, 2020
  17. ^ Bush, John. Personal Interview. March 15, 2020.
  18. ^ "Full Day Trips". Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad. Retrieved 2020-03-18.
  19. ^ "".
  20. ^ roger hogan (2019-05-08), C&TSRR=Daily Train At the Narrows Eastbound, retrieved 2019-05-27
  21. ^ February 1; 2018. "Trains and Cumbres & Toltec announce epic narrow gauge photo charter | Trains Magazine". Retrieved 2019-05-27.CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  22. ^ Arellano, Megan. "A 'Hateful' Question: What Movies Were Filmed In Colorado, But Set Elsewhere?". Colorado Public Radio. Retrieved 2018-05-27.[permanent dead link]
  23. ^ "GHOST TRAINS OF THE OLD WEST (105929-01)". Retrieved 2018-05-27.
  24. ^ "America's Historic Steam Railroads: Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes". Retrieved 2018-05-27.

External linksEdit