TABB - Denver & Rio Grande

Denver & Rio Grande Railroad

GPS Location: 37.269358, -107.882495

Miles from Chama: 109 Miles

Miles from Durango: 0 Miles

The Denver & Rio Grande Railway (D&RG), later the Denver and Rio Grande Western (D&RGW), was incorporated on October 27, 1870 by General William Jackson Palmer. It was originally planned that the new railroad would proceed south from Denver and travel an estimated 875 miles to El Paso via Pueblo, westward along the Arkansas River, and southward through the San Luis Valley of Colorado toward the Rio Grande. The original terminus was projected to be Mexico City. The first rails were laid heading south from Denver in July 1871. A narrow gauge of 3 feet was chosen over standard gauge (4 feet, 8 ½ inches) because of lower costs and faster construction. The D&RG fought a pitched battle with the Santa Fe Railroad for control of the Royal Gorge route on the Arkansas River. Ultimately, a court granted the Royal Gorge route to the Rio Grande and the Santa Fe was granted the route over Raton Pass into New Mexico. Largely because of this, the railroad changed its plans for a route to El Paso and instead turned its sights westward toward the rich mines in the San Juan Mountains.


In 1877, the Rio Grande started building the San Juan Extension west from Walsenburg over La Veta Pass, reaching the new town of Alamosa in 1877. It then reached Antonito, also a new town created by the railroad, in 1878. In the spring of 1880, the railroad began building west over 10,015-foot Cumbres Pass in the high San Juans, arriving in Chama, NM on New Year’s Eve 1880. It then reached the nThe Denver & Rio Grande Railway (D&RG), later the Denver and Rio Grande Western (D&RGW), was incorporated on October 27, 1870 by General William Jackson Palmer. It was originally planned that the new railroad would proceed south from Denver and travel an estimated 875 miles to El Paso via Pueblo, westward along the Arkansas River, and southward through the San Luis Valley of Colorado toward the Rio Grande. The original terminus was projected to be Mexico City. The first rails were laid heading south from Denver in July 1871. A narrow gauge of 3 feet was chosen over standard gauge (4 feet, 8 ½ inches) because of lower costs and faster construction. The D&RG fought a pitched battle with the Santa Fe Railroad for control of the Royal Gorge route on the Arkansas River. Ultimately, a court granted the Royal Gorge route to the Rio Grande and the Santa Fe was granted the route over Raton Pass into New Mexico. Largely because of this, the railroad changed its plans for a route to El Paso and instead turned its sights westward toward the rich mines in the San Juan Mountains. 


In 1877, the Rio Grande started building the San Juan Extension west from Walsenburg over La Veta Pass, reaching the new town of Alamosa in 1877 and then Antonito, also a new town created by the railroad, in 1878. In the spring of 1880, the railroad began building west over 10,015-foot Cumbres Pass in the high San Juans, arriving in Chama, NM on New Year’s Eve 1880 and the new town of Durango, CO in August 1881. A branch to Pagosa Springs was completed in 1900 from Pagosa Junction (later called Gato). This line was abandoned in 1935. A branch from Carbon Junction, just south of Durango, to Farmington, NM was built in 1905. Oddly, this line was originally built as standard gauge, partly because the railroad expected that all of the narrow-gauge lines would eventually be converted to standard gauge, which, of course, never happened. In 1923, that branch was converted to narrow gauge. 


By the late 1940s, traffic on most of the Rio Grande’s narrow-gauge lines had fallen off dramatically. The regular daily passenger train from Alamosa to Durango was terminated in January 1951. The Rio Grande began to abandon many narrow-gauge lines. Fortunately, oil and gas were discovered in the Farmington, NM area around 1950. Because of the vast quantities of material needed to develop this new field, including pipe and drilling equipment, it was cheaper to haul this freight over the mountains by rail than by truck. So, this new source of revenue saved the line from Alamosa to Durango and south to Farmington. However, by 1960, this traffic began to dry up, so the Rio Grande again desired to abandon the route. All freight operations ended by 1967 and the line from Antonito to Durango and Farmington was abandoned in 1969. The States of Colorado and New Mexico purchased the section from Antonito to Chama, which is today’s Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad.