Monday, June 28, 2010

Lobato Trestle Burns, Is Chama's Season Over?

UPDATE 6/21/11: Lobato Trestle is rebuilt and in use

What happens when you mix creosote-soaked, wooden ties, the right amount of heat and air, lots and lots of air? A very bad day for the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad.

That video is hard to watch when you know what it could mean.

Thurs 6-24-10, C&TSRR FB Photo
The Lobato Trestle fire started Wednesday night, about 4 miles north of Chama, NM on the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad, and blackened approximately two acres of trees and underbrush immediately below the trestle. The high heat of the fire on the trestle made it extremely difficult to extinguish. The trestle frame itself is steel, rather than wood, so it did not burn along with the ties on top. Yet, the strength of steel is in its shape and thickness, and heat is a most effective way to change that shape and thickness. Even with the steel in place, it could be a long time before rails can be laid across the trestle again. 

Lobato burns into Thurs 6-24, C&TSRR FB Photo
“This is the most significant mishap to the track and right-of-way in all the 40 years the Cumbres and Toltec has been in operation,” said Marvin Casias, who was only recently named C&TSRR general manager

Experts on steel trestles from HNTB in Kansas City were flown in to examine the trestle framing on Saturday, with a preliminary report expected by mid-week. With that report, officials will be able to determine if the trestle fire damage is merely a momentary inconvenience or a season-ending event. As it is, the railroad seems to be coping.

Lobato Trestle 6-25-10, C&TSRR Photo
With the fire, the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad was split in two. At the south end (west from Denver), Chama, New Mexico, has what is considered the main station, as it is far more busy most days than its northern (eastern) counterpart in Antonito, Colorado. Leaving Chama, the line climbs toward Cumbres Pass and then Osier, Toltec Gorge, and eventually Antonito. Only four miles outside of Chama, the line is severed at the site of the Lobato Trestle fire.

Since the fire, passengers holding tickets for boarding at Chama have been offered complimentary bus service to and from the Antonito station, where trains are still departing round trip, traveling through Mud and Rock Tunnels, Toltec Gorge to lunch at Osier and returning to Antonito. Not at all a bad day, but certainly not the whole 64 miles.

Lobato Trestle, after the fire  on Fri 6-26-10, C&TSRR Photo
Despite this, reservations are being canceled at a quick clip--especially by New Mexico residents expecting to board at Chama. “Now, more than any other time, we ask our Colorado and New Mexico patrons to continue visiting us," said Roger Hogan, a C&TS marketing consultant.

Quick Facts: Lobato Trestle fire 

Trestle length: 310 feet, height: over 100 feet
Date of incident: Fire spotted June 23, 2010 after 11 p.m.
Cause of fire: still under investigation, although lightning and human origins such as fireworks and arson have not been ruled out
Fire status: Contained, dead out
Cost in money: Undetermined
Cost in lives: Thankfully, none.

Effects: Short special excursions are planned out of Chama, but only roundtrip runs out of Antonito to Osier remain possible until the trestle is returned to service

What's next: HNTB report, possibly by Wednesday will determine the extent of repairs necessary to return the trestle to service

What hangs in the balance: The railroad's summer season could have a major shortfall in terms of revenues, the railroad also celebrates its 40th year of operations at the end of August, with special equipment excursions and both states' governors in attendance. 

Location, using Google Maps
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