‘Essential Train Service’ Delivers Hope

06/02/2020
NEWS BRIEFS
The Sand Creek Fire (Pagosa) remains at 103 acres, 0 structures threatened, 20 personnel, fire and drone restrictions in place
Southwest Colorado confirmed COVID-19 cases by county: La Plata (140), Archuleta (13), Montezuma (79), Dolores (0), San Juan (1). Deaths due to Covid: Montezuma (2), Deaths among cases: LaPlata (1), Montezuma (1), sjbpublichealth.org, montezumacounty.org
Colorado COVID-19 totals: 35,116 cases, 5,820 hospitalized, 1,704 deaths among cases, 1,544 deaths due to COVID-19, 367,724 tested, 384 outbreaks, colorado.gov

While the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad waits for approval from the state Health Department to begin runs to Silverton, an symbolic train delivered hope to the tiny town.

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SILVERTON AND SAN JUAN COUNTY ON THE SAN JUAN SKYWAY ARE OPEN FOR BUSINESS. YOU'RE WATCHING THE LOCAL NEWS NETWORK, BROUGHT TO YOU BY EXPRESS EMPLOYMENT PROFESSIONALS. I'M WENDY GRAHAM SETTLE. SOUTHWEST COLORADO RESIDENTS HEARD THE NOW UNFAMILIAR BLARE OF A TRAIN WHISTLE LAST WEEK WITH THE DEPARTURE OF A SYMBOLIC “ESSENTIAL TRAIN” TO SILVERTON. THE 12 CARS ATTACHED TO THE OIL-BURNING 4-93 ENGINE CARRIED NO PASSENGERS, BUT IT WAS A TRAIN FILLED WITH HOPE. SAN JUAN COUNTY OFFICIALS HAD CLOSED THE TOWN OF SILVERTON AND BANNED ACCESS TO ALL STATE AND FEDERAL LANDS ON MARCH 24TH TO PROTECT THE COUNTY'S 500 FULL-TIME RESIDENTS FROM THE CORONAVIRUS. TWO MONTHS LATER ON MAY 28TH, THE DURANGO AND SILVERTON NARROW GAUGE TRAIN MADE A SPECIAL RUN FROM DURANGO TO SILVERTON TO DELIVER FOOD DONATIONS, PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT, AND OTHER ESSENTIAL ITEMS. THE TRAIN ALSO DELIVERED A POP CAR AND AN ALL-TERRAIN VEHICLE  IT HAD DONATED TO THE SAN JUAN COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT AND SEARCH AND RESCUE TEAMS FOR BACKCOUNTRY RESCUES. PERHAPS MOST IMPORTANTLY, IT DELIVERED A SENSE OF HOPE THAT THE TINY MOUNTAIN TOWN WILL SURVIVE THIS LATEST CRISIS.
THIS WAS OUR F16 FLYOVER VERSION FOR OUR COMMUNITY, FOR OUR TRAIN, AS WELL AS TO REALLY CELEBRATE THAT SILVERTON IS REOPENING. AND WE ARE EMBRACING HAVING VISITORS COME INTO OUR COMMUNITY IN A PROTECTIVE AND SAFE MANNER DURING THE COVID-19 CRISIS.

ONE OF YOUR, ONE OF THE INDUSTRIES, THAT'S THE LIFEBLOOD IS YOUR TOURIST INDUSTRY, ACTUALLY TO SEE THAT COMING INTO TOWN AND SEE THE TRAIN COME INTO TOWN, IT GIVES YOU, IT GIVES YOU HOPE THAT, NOT MAYBE, MAYBE NOT TOMORROW, BUT IN MAYBE A COUPLE OF WEEKS OR THREE WEEKS OR LONGER THAT THE TRAIN ACTUALLY IS GOING TO BE ARRIVING. THAT'S A TRULY IS A, THE LIFEBLOOD OF SILVERTON AND DURANGO.THE SILVERTON ECONOMY AND THE TRAIN HAVE TAKEN A BEATING DURING THE LAST TWO OUT OF THREE YEARS. THE TOWN  SUFFERED NEAR DEVASTATING FINANCIAL LOSSES DURING THE SUMMER OF 2018, WHEN THE 416 FIRE CLOSED U.S. HIGHWAY 550 NORTH, AND THE TRAIN SHUT DOWN SERVICE FOR 41 DAYS. ON A NORMAL YEAR, WHEN THE TRAIN CARRIES PASSENGERS TO SILVERTON FROM THE FIRST WEEKEND OF MAY TO THE LAST WEEKEND IN OCTOBER, THE TOWN WILL SEE MORE THAN A 187 THOUSAND TRAIN RIDERS DURING THE SEASON. MANY RETURN TO SILVERTON TO SPEND ANOTHER DAY OR NIGHT IN THE AREA. THIS SPRING, THE SAN JUAN NATIONAL FOREST AND LA PLATA COUNTY PASSED FIRE RESTRICTIONS, AND NOW, TRAIN OWNER AL HARPER SAYS HE CAN'T USE HIS COAL-FIRED LOCOMOTIVES TO DELIVER PASSENGERS TO SILVERTON. THE DANGER FROM HOT CINDERS IGNITING A ANOTHER FOREST FIRE IS TOO GREAT, HE SAID. ALTHOUGH HARPER INVESTED SIX MILLION DOLLARS TO BUILD TWO DIESEL ENGINES STRONG ENOUGH TO PULL THE TRAIN UP THE LONG INCLINE TO SILVERTON, THE CONTRACTORS ARE MORE THAN 18 MONTHS BEHIND ON DELIVERY. AND WHILE THE RAILROAD USED A CONVERTED ENGINE THAT BURNS OIL TO RUN THE ESSENTIAL TRAIN SERVICE ON MAY 28TH, HARPER SAYS HE'S RELUCTANT TO BEGIN FULL-TIME RUNS TO SILVERTON WITHOUT A BACK-UP ENGINE.
IT'S ALMOST A TRIPLE WHAMMY. YOU KNOW, WE HAD THE PROBLEM FROM A COUPLE OF YEARS AGO WITH FIRES AND NOW THE CORONAVIRUS. AND NOW WE'RE IN A STAGE-TWO FIRE RESTRICTION, WHICH MEANS I HAVE ONE ENGINE RIGHT NOW QUALIFIED TO GO TO SILVERTON. AND I CAN'T TAKE THE RISK OF HAVING THAT ENGINE BREAK DOWN SOMEWHERE AND NOT HAVING A BACKUP. SO, THE SILVER TRIPS ARE, TO ME, REALLY DIFFICULT THIS YEAR.IN THE MEANTIME, HARPER RECENTLY PURCHASED TWO DIESEL ENGINES FROM THE WHITE PASS YUKON NARROW GAUGE RAILROAD IN SKAGWAY, ALASKA, AND HE HOPES TO HAVE DELIVERY BY MID-JUNE. FINALLY, HARPER HAS ONE MORE HURDLE TO JUMP. STATE OF COLORADO HEALTH REGULATIONS LIMIT PASSENGERS TO 50 PERCENT OF HIS TRAINS' CAPACITY, BUT HARPER SAYS HE NEEDS TO FILL TRAINS TO 75 PERCENT CAPACITY TO BREAK EVEN, OTHERWISE, HE CAN'T AFFORD TO RUN THE HALF-EMPTY TRAINS THIS SUMMER. THE LA PLATA COUNTY COMMISSIONERS WERE EXPECTED ON JUNE 2ND TO APPROVE A VARIANCE REQUEST TO THE COLORADO DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC HEALTH AND ENVIRONMENT THAT WOULD ALLOW THE TRAIN TO RUN AT 75 PERCENT CAPACITY. SAN JUAN COUNTY HAS ENDORSED THE VARIANCE REQUEST. LA PLATA COUNTY ALSO MUST OBTAIN APPROVAL FROM THE SOUTHERN UTE INDIAN TRIBE AND OTHER JURISDICTIONS BEFORE IT SUBMITS ITS FINAL REQUEST TO THE STATE HEALTH DEPARTMENT. IF AND WHEN THE RAILROAD RESUMES SERVICE TO SILVERTON THIS SUMMER, HARPER SAID IT HAS ADOPTED STRICT HEALTH MEASURES TO PROTECT PASSENGERS AND TRAIN EMPLOYEES. PASSENGERS PURCHASING TICKETS WILL BE ASKED TO WEAR A MASK AND PRACTICE 6-FOOT SOCIAL DISTANCING AT THE DEPOT. PASSENGERS ALSO MUST WEAR MASKS AND SUBMIT TO A TEMPERATURE SCAN BEFORE THEY'RE ALLOWED TO BOARD. DESPITE ALL THE UNDERCERTAINTY, HARPER SAID INTEREST IN THE TRAIN REMAINS STRONG. RAILROAD STAFF ARE FIELDING MORE THAN A HUNDRED CALLS AND ARE BOOKING MORE THAN A HUNDRED RESERVATIONS A DAY FOR AUGUST AND SEPTEMBER.
WE'RE GOING TO TAKE AND TURN HOPE INTO REALITY. IF WE WORK TOGETHER, WE'RE GOING TO FIGURE OUT SOME WAY THAT WE CAN START RUNNING RAIL SERVICE BACK TO SILVERTON. AND WE WANT PEOPLE TO KNOW THAT, THE RAILROAD AND THE SILVERTON COMMUNITY ARE ONE. WE'RE SOLID TOGETHER. SO WE'VE JUST GOT TO WORK HARD AND FIGURE OUT HOW WE GET THROUGH THE CRISIS. AND, THIS YEAR WILL BE TOUGH, BUT NEXT YEAR IS GOING TO BE BETTER.TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THE TRAIN'S SCHEDULE, VISIT DURANGO TRAIN DOT COM. TO LEARN ABOUT OPEN BUSINESSES IN SILVERTON, VISIT SILVERTON COLORADO DOT COM. THANKS FOR WATCHING THE LOCAL NEWS NETWORK. I'M WENDY GRAHAM SETTLE.

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