About 500 passengers on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad were bused back to Durango on Tuesday after heavy rains flooded the tracks.
A debris flow of mud, rocks and trees covered a 300-foot section of rail to a depth of 12 to 15 feet, about 10 miles south of Silverton, said Andrea Seid, spokeswoman for the railroad.
Its big, she said.
The railroad canceled todays trains to Silverton but planned to run at least two trains to the Cascade Wye a partial trip.
The mudslide prevented two of the four trains in operation Tuesday from reaching Durango, said Paul Schranck, general manager for the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad.
The trains, with a total of 503 passengers, had to back up to Silverton. One train arrived back in Silverton at 4:15 p.m.; the other was back at 5:45 p.m., Seid said.
The San Juan Mountains have received heavy rain for several days. A flash-flood watch was issued until midnight Tuesday.
The flooding was reported at 3:37 p.m. between Needleton and Elk Park, in San Juan County.
Right now, we know there is water over the tracks, but you cant see what else is under the water, Schranck said at 5 p.m. Tuesday.
Butch Knowlton, director of La Plata Countys Office of Emergency Management, said train officials reported a sizable depth of material over the tracks.
Train employees also reported a mudslide that briefly blocked the flow of the Animas River. He estimated the slide occurred about 2.8 miles north of the La Plata-San Juan county line.
To move that much material, it had to be a large amount of precipitation a heavy downpour in a concentrated area, he said.
Storm cells dumped 1 to 1½ inches of moisture per hour in the San Juan Mountains, said Dennis Phillips, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.
Some are slow-movers and efficient rainers, he said.
It is rare for debris flows to halt train service, Seid said.
With mountain railroading and the rainy season, its always a possibility, she said. Fortunately, it does not happen often. This is the first one weve had this year that is weather-related.
The railroad used eight buses four loaned from Mild to Wild rafting to bring passengers back to Durango.
Its Colorado railroading, Schranck said. Its unfortunate, but well work it out.