The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad stopped its once-a-day trains to Cascade Canyon on Tuesday.
Train excursions will be suspended through April 1 or until further notice, the railroad said on its website. The museum will remain open and yard tours will be available.
D&SNG General Manager John Harper said Monday the railroad had been limiting the number of people on its train to Cascade to 250 based on a recommendation from San Juan Basin Public Health. Railroad executives had expected that ceiling recommendation from the health department to decrease as COVID-19’s spread grew, but that’s now moot with the decision to suspend runs to Cascade.
San Juan Basin Public Health had limited the number of people in the depot, the museum and on board the train at any one time to 250 people, and daily consultations with the health department had been used to update that number, Harper said.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that gatherings of 50 people or more be postponed or canceled for the next eight weeks in response to the coronavirus. On Monday, President Donald Trump suggested gatherings be limited to 10 or fewer people.
The train’s normal capacity to Cascade is 360 passengers, Harper said, and runs tend to carry between 330 and 360 passengers.
Harper had been preparing to shut down daily trains to Cascade if ordered by a government agency, either the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, San Juan Basin Public Health or any other federal or state agencies with the authority to issue a shutdown.
Additionally, the train had been conducting two deep cleanings a day in all common areas that could be touched by people in the depot, the museum and the trains. Those included seats, rails, windows, restrooms and table tops.
“Basically, anything people can touch,” Harper said.
Cancellations have spiked for the next couple of months, he said.
“Cancellations are mainly coming from people who are flying in or are eight hours or more away (from Durango),” he said.
D&SNG has waived cancellation fees for anyone who is feeling ill, has symptoms of COVID-19 or doesn’t want to travel, Harper said.
Stopping the train will come with economic consequences.
Halting runs, he said, “will affect not only the train but the local economy as well – restaurants, shops and hotels. We’re working with a number of restaurants, hotels and shops. We’re all in this together. We want to work with each other and support each other and help the local community.”
Harper said his biggest concern is for his employees. D&SNG currently has 120 full- and part-time employees, and that number swells to 250 at the height of the season in mid-June when the train typically runs three trains to Silverton.
“My No. 1 concern is our employees. We’re going to do everything we can to keep them working,” Harper said.
The train went through cancellations during the 416 Fire in summer 2018, but Harper said that experience hasn’t helped in planning for the COVID-19 outbreak because the two events are so different in nature.
On Monday, based on guidance from Gov. Jared Polis issued this weekend to the ski industry, the Royal Gorge Route Railroad suspended operations for at least one week.
“While this is a very difficult decision, we are following Gov. Polis’ lead in the tourism sector and suspending operations for at least a week.” said Mark Greksa. “This has a clear ripple effect on our staff, our guests from around the world and our local economy. But it is clearly in the best long-term interest of everyone we serve to lead by example in the Royal Gorge region. We must do our part to flatten the curve of COVID-19.”
The Royal Gorge Railroad operates trains year-round through the Royal Gorge from Cañon City to the western terminus in Parkdale.