The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad had its best financial year ever in 2015 after seeing high ridership and achieving better efficiency.
“If the economy stays generally where it is we should have another great year,” said train spokesman Christian Robbins about 2016.
Ridership on trains without special events increased about 10 percent from 136,000 in 2014 to 149,000 in 2015. Special event trains such as the Polar Express, Blues train and others also saw an increase of about 3 percent from 30,000 in 2014 to about 31,000 in 2015.
“Operationally, it was challenging. We were pushing our locomotive power to its max,” Robbins said.
While July was not as strong for the train compared with 2014, the fall season helped make up for it.
“We had some really strong weekend trains,” he said, of autumn runs.
The ridership in 2015 was not the highest the train has ever had, but the train is running more efficiently than in the past, he said.
Some special events could offer the train a chance to a grow, but the company does not have plans to introduce any new events this year.
December saw the introduction of the Christmas Tree Trains for the first time, and it was well received, bringing in people from Phoenix, Boulder and Grand Junction, who drove their trees back home, Robbins said.
The Christmas Tree Trains will be back next year to take passengers to the Cascade Wye to cut a fresh tree.
Robbins attributes part of the success to the widespread media coverage of the event on the Front Range, which helped raise awareness about the train’s winter schedule.
In 2016, the company plans to market both the train and Durango as a year-round destination to the Front Range.
“There is somewhat of a saturation of knowledge about the train in the Four Corners. ...That doesn’t hold in the Front Range,” he said.
The train will also tweak some events this year.
For example, the brew train, could feature some beers from crafts brewers on the Front Range, in addition to local offerings.
Among the special event trains, the Polar Express Trains are the most popular. These trains attracted 29,000 of the 31,000 people who rode special event trains in 2015.
But there is somewhat limited opportunity to expand this train because the company wants to keep these trains as a night-time event.
“There is magic that happens when it’s dark,” he said.