Wednesday, May 24, 2006

San Luis & Rio Grande To Start Passenger Service This Weekend!

I could pretend that I was holding back on you just for dramatic effect, but I just found out.

The San Luis & Rio Grande Railroad is beginning passenger service between Alamosa and Antonito as the Toltec Gorge Limited and between Alamosa and LaVeta Pass as the San Luis Express. This weekend (May 27) marks the return of scheduled passenger service to this "rare mileage" in Colorado, not seen by regular passengers in over 50 years.

The two routes can be ridden independently of each other. It's also possible to purchase through tickets from Alamosa to Osier or Chama, changing trains in Antonito onto the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad. Basing the routes out of Alamosa is very beneficial because 30 years after the rehabilitation of the C&TS, Antonito -- a single attraction town -- has been unable to develop the necessary facilities to host tourists riding the C&TS rails. Alamosa has numerous motels and other accommodations because of the added attraction of the Great Sand Dunes and it's central location on US 160 and US 285.

Unfortunately, this configuration will only allow a 2 day trip from LaVeta to Chama instead of a same day trip, although theoretically, you would have to get up pretty early (o' dark 30) to be able to travel the whole route in 24 hours. It's better anyway to buy two tickets from La Veta to Alamosa and then the next day from Alamosa to Chama because it will break up the trip a little leaving riders fresh for the second leg.

Round trips from Alamosa on both lines are also available, running over LaVeta Pass to the town of LaVeta for lunch and shopping and out to Antonito and back for the morning and evening connections with the C&TS. These are significantly lower than the C&TS route, mostly because diesels cost less to run and maintain, along with the fact that it is an active freight line that sees other revenue than just the passengers, defraying maintenance costs. Both routes are historic, however, and the ticket agreement shows that both railroads expect to profit from each other's business. It brings to mind the adage from Ecclesiastes, "Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves." A single log on the fire will quickly go out; two logs will keep each other going.

On a side note, I may be speaking from ignorance, but it always remains possible that the C&TS could strike an agreement to spike down a third rail between Alamosa and Antonito. However, the cost for new coaling and water facilities through to Alamosa would be prohibitive until the LaVeta Pass line establishes itself. Still, being able to pace the train on 285 like they did 50 years ago is a fantasy I haven't quite given up on.



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