Mud and rockslides on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad prevented three trains and about 1,000 passengers from reaching Silverton earlier this week.
Mary Nielson, of Monticello, Utah, said she and six family members were stuck on the train for nine hours Monday. The train took passengers to the Cascade wye, went a little farther to drop off some backpackers and then reversed to the Cascade wye. It turned around at the wye and went back to Durango, she said.
A normal roundtrip train ride to Silverton involves seven hours on the train with two hours and 15 minutes in Silverton.
The thing that bothers us is that the company knew before anyone took off that no one was going to Silverton, Nielson said. We could have driven. We didnt need to go on the train.
Not quite so, said Paul Schranck, general manager for the D&SNG. Train officials knew of a rockslide about 9:45 a.m., he said, but they didnt know the severity of it.
Train officials thought they could clear the slide in time to allow the daily commuters to pass through. But beyond the rockslide were two more slides, Schranck said.
It was definitely a difficult day, and we handled it as well as we could, he said Wednesday. I feel bad that people are upset. We tried to give them a nice trip.
Passengers on the third train of the day, which was scheduled to depart at 9:45 a.m., were informed they might not make it to Silverton. Some passengers stepped off the train and rescheduled for another day, Schranck said. The railroad posted pictures of the rockslide Monday night online and Tuesday morning in the train depot, he said.
The mud and rockslides were the result of heavy rain in the upper Animas Canyon, about four miles south of Silverton. Crews worked until 10 p.m. Monday to remove debris.
Rocks occasionally tumble onto the tracks, but railroad crews can remove them quickly without interruption to services, Schranck said. Large rockslides such as the one that occurred Sunday night or Monday morning are rarer, he said. They are triggered by heavy rains, usually during the monsoons.
In 2006, trains had to back up to Silverton after a significant rockslide covered the tracks during the day. Passengers were bused back to Durango.
Having a rockslide is an unusual occurrence, Schranck said.
Nielson, whose family paid $480 to ride the train, said passengers were offered a 25 percent refund and were given paperwork to receive a larger refund, upon request.
Passengers were allowed to step off the train at one point to stretch their legs, she said. But otherwise, passengers were confined to the railcars. The concession cart ran out of food, and the bathrooms reeked from overuse, she said.
You couldnt go anywhere, Nielson said. It was like being stuck on a plane.
Nielson was onboard with her 72-year-old husband, her son and his wife and three girls, ages 2, 6 and 8. Everyone had a hard time being stuck on a train for that long, especially her husband, who is on oxygen, Nielson said.
People were just livid, she said.
Jeff Jackson, the railroads senior vice president, called it an unfortunate incident. But the railroad handled the natural disaster as best it could with the information it had, he said. The railroad didnt send passengers up the tracks knowing they wouldnt make it to Silverton, he said.
Its easy to Monday-morning quarterback these things after you have all the facts, Jackson said. We certainly wish the event didnt happen.