The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad announced Monday it will remain closed “until further notice,” another hit to Southwest Colorado’s tourist-driven economy amid the coronavirus outbreak.
American Heritage Railways General Manager John Harper also said it has furloughed 44 seasonal D&SNG employees and 10 full-time employees from its permanent staff of 86 employees.
The furloughs are essentially temporary layoffs, with the employees expected to rejoin the staff once COVID-19 restrictions are lifted and the railroad can return to normal operations.
Last week, D&SNG, which is owned by American Heritage Railways, stopped its once-a-day trains to Cascade Canyon, suspending operations through April 1.
However, D&SNG on Monday in a news release extended the suspension “through May 1, 2020, or until further notice.” Also, the railroad’s gift shop and museum, which were open, are now closed.
“At this time, we are not announcing any cancellation of service beyond May 1, 2020,” the D&SNG said in a news release. “However, as new information becomes available our message may evolve and affect our timeline of operations.”
Harper said it is unlikely service will resume in May, but the official cancellation through that date works with D&SNG’s schedule – May 1 was the date of the last train to Cascade Canyon. The railroad had planned to begin runs to Silverton on May 2, which now seems unlikely, Harper said.
“We continue to work closely with health authorities, and we’re led by them in determining when we can resume operations,” Harper said.
Guests who hold reservations will receive a refund or be given the opportunity to rebook for later in the year, the railroad said in its news release. “We apologize for the inconvenience and ask for your understanding and patience during this challenging time.”
As of Monday, D&SNG had 3,600 cancellations for the season, which typically runs from early May to late October with peak operations seeing three trains going to Silverton.
The Grand Imperial Hotel in Silverton, owned by D&SNG, is down about 13% in its future reservations, Harper said.
“The most difficult business part of all this is we don’t expect any revenue until June 1. We’re using reserves to get through this difficult time, cover our payroll and expenses. And we’re limiting our expenses,” Harper said.
Last week, Harper said cancellations have spiked for the next couple of months. He expressed concern for the train’s fluctuating staff of 120 to 250 people, and the economy at-large.
“(The shutdown) will affect not only the train but the local economy as well – restaurants, shops and hotels,” Harper said. “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.”
La Plata County’s other main tourist draw, Purgatory Resort, is also closed at least until April 6. The region’s flagship attraction, Mesa Verde National Park, however, modified its operations but remains open.