Cumbres & Toltec Railroad hits some rough track

Brief by Marcia Darnell

Transportation – March 2000 – Colorado Central Magazine

Cumbres & Toltec hits some rough track

The Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad is a narrow gauge, coal-fired wonder that runs between Antonito and Chama, N.M., in the summer months. The operation has been in danger of derailment recently over old rails, failing equipment and battles between its owner and manager.

The commission which owns the railroad fired operator George Bartholomew last year and received bids from three companies to run the line this year. The list was narrowed to two in January, then to none. The commission said the bids weren’t competitive.

A non-profit group, Friends of the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad, may prove to be the white knight. The group, with 1,400 members around the world, has raised $300,000 to bid on running the line this season. An advantage to this arrangement would be that the non-profit group would plow all profits back into maintenance of the train and rails.

However, a wrench has already been thrown into the machinery. Rail Ventures of Colorado, one of the three dismissed bidders, has asked the commission to terminate negotiations with Friends. Rail Ventures says the commission didn’t give notice it was ending the bidding process, and that its bid was vetoed without sufficient cause.

In another snag, Wayne Quinlan, who left the C&TS Commission after 12 years, now says he was ousted by Gov. Bill Owens. Carol Salisbury, a longtime C&TS supporter, was appointed in his place. The railroad attracts 70,000 tourists to Colorado and New Mexico every year.