Durango and its branches

At some point in its history Durango became known among American railfans as the "narrow gauge capital of the world". Given the extensive narrow gauge systems in other parts of the world, this was clearly an overstatement. But until the RGS abandoned in 1952, Durango did have narrow gauge lines radiating in four directions from its small but classic terminal. Even after 1952 Durango had lines in three directions: the mainline to Chama, and the Farmington and Silverton branches.

More than offsetting the loss of the RGS, the oil and gas boom around Farmington during the decade of the 1950's created a surge of rail traffic that the DRGW was hard pressed to handle. During that period the Durango terminal was busy turning trains, engines, and crews as quickly as physically possible. Most of the traffic was long trains of pipe and drilling mud going down the Farmington branch and the returning empties. For awhile Farmington had the highest cash reciepts of any agency on the Rio Grande system, beating some pretty big places on the standard gauge lines like Denver and Salt Lake City. Durango itself contributed outbound lumber and coal as well as a modest amount of miscellaneous inbound traffic.

Moreover, beginning in the early 1950's the Silverton branch mixed train was attracting a steadily growing number of tourists.

The oil and gas boom eventually ended, at least in terms of rail traffic. But tourist traffic on the Silverton branch grew into a profitable business. So even when the mainline to Alamosa was abandoned in 1969, Durango retained the Silverton line which the Rio Grande eventually sold and it became today's successful Durango and Silverton Narrow Guage Railroad tourist line.

Interestingly, the Farmington branch was built standard gauge in 1905, and operated as an isolated standard gauge branch until 1923. At the time it was built the assumption was that all the narrow gauge would soon be standardized, and the Rio Grande also wanted to head off a competitive threat that the standard gauge Santa Fe or Southern Pacific would build into the Farmington area from the south. But neither happened, and eventually the Farmington branch was narrow gauged. But for a few years the mainline from Carbon Junction to Durango and part of the Durango yard were dual gauge, and I have read that some standard gauge ties lasted right up to abandonment.

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