Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad wants to get back on track by end of June

The Associated Press

DURANGO, Colo. — The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad has announced plans to reopen with limited service trips by the end of the month after shutting down in March because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Democratic Gov. Jared Polis eased regulations in the past few weeks, allowing scenic trains to resume operations at 50% capacity, the Durango Herald reported.

It is one of the region's main economic drivers, accounting for about $250 million with more than 200 peak season employees and 100 year-round employees, according to the Durango Chamber of Commerce. It is also a tourist attraction that brings up to 200,000 riders annually from around the world on the 45-mile (72-kilometer) trek from Durango to Silverton.

The company originally said it would only be profitable at 75% capacity, but said it reworked its operations to make 50% financially feasible because it was unlikely it would be allowed to run at a higher capacity.

"It's just going to have to be a lot of hard work on how we're spending and handling overhead," general manager Jeff Johnson said, adding that they still need approval from San Juan Basin Public Health to operate at half capacity. 

San Juan Basin Public Health spokeswoman Claire Ninde said the latest statewide order does not define how to evaluate a company's reopening plan or how to provide approval.

The railroad could start running limited service trips by the last week of June if given approval, which could include shorter trips out of Silverton and reopening the museum and gift shop in Durango. 

"We would love to be in operation before the end of the month," he said. "We're just trying to figure out the best way to make it work."

Railroad officials have said they will have to reduce the number of people on each train because of COVID-19 and implement safety measures, such as requiring face masks. 

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death. The vast majority of people recover.

In this July 13, 2002 file photo, a Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad train begins the climb out of the Animas Valley north of Durango, Colo.