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Rio Grande Scenic Railroad
DSC 0073 071xrp blanca jun15 08 - Flickr - drewj1946.jpg
No. 18, a 2-8-0, leads an excursion through Blanca, Colorado in 2008.
Commercial operations
Name Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad
Built by Denver and Rio Grande Railway
Original gauge 3 ft (914 mm)
After 1899: 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Preserved operations
Owned by San Luis and Rio Grande Railroad
Iowa Pacific Holdings
Operated by Rio Grande Scenic Railroad
Stations Alamosa, Fort Garland, Fir Summit, La Veta
Length (?)
Preserved gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm)
Commercial history
Opened 1878
1899 Gauge conversion and name change
Closed to passengers (?)
Closed (?)
Preservation history
2006 Opened
2019 Ceased operations
San Luis & Rio Grande Railroad excursion approaching Blanca, CO
RGSRR excursion train approaching Blanca, lead by Ex-Southern Pacific 1744, 2007

The Rio Grande Scenic Railroad of Colorado, owned by Iowa Pacific Holdings of Chicago, was a heritage railway that operated from 2006 to 2019 in and around the San Luis Valley, on trackage of the San Luis and Rio Grande Railroad. Located 200 miles (320 km) south of Denver, Colorado, the Rio Grande Scenic Railroad operated between Alamosa and La Veta. This 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge route, featuring a climb over the Sangre de Cristo Mountains via Veta Pass, dates back to 1899 and is a successor to the original 3 ft (914 mm) narrow gauge La Veta Pass line of the Denver and Rio Grande Railway, completed in 1878. In keeping with the Denver & Rio Grande Western slogan Scenic Line of the World (see emblem here), the trip between Alamosa and La Veta offered views of several of Colorado’s 14,000-foot (4,300 m) peaks. The railroad ceased operating excursions following a wildfire that damaged some of their facilities, as well as the parent company SLRG entering Chapter 11 bankruptcy in late 2019.


The predecessor of the railroad was credited for opening the San Luis Valley to the rest of the world by laying tracks across its borders. The town of Alamosa was literally built in one day with buildings transported by the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad in 1878. By 1890, and during the following half-century, Alamosa was the hub for 3 ft (914 mm) narrow gauge railroading in North America. The railroad departs from the original depot in the heart of downtown Alamosa, where freight trains once delivered ore, lumber, sheep, cattle and farming products, and shipped out agricultural and mining products. Trains from Denver, Durango, Creede, Salida and Santa Fe, New Mexico arrived and departed daily with passengers.


The Rio Grande Scenic Railroad collection included both vintage steam locomotives and diesel locomotives. Notably, they operated former Lake Superior and Ishpeming Railroad locomotive #18, built by the American Locomotive Company at its Pittsburgh works in 1910. This locomotive previously operated on the Grand Canyon Railway and the Mount Hood Railroad. They also owned former Southern Pacific locomotive #1744, was sold to the Pacific Locomotive Association and moved to the Niles Canyon Railway. #18 is still on the property and is for sale as of 2021.

Rolling Stock

The Rio Grande Scenic operated a collection of historic passenger cars in their excursion service, including:

  • Five remodeled dome cars for railroad sightseeing, with a glass roof on top of the car where passengers can ride and see in all directions around the train;
  • 1920s-era Pullman built modernised Heavyweight archroof “open-window” cars with bench-style seating for passengers and the option of opening windows. These cars were built for the Southern Railway between 1924 and 1926 and came to the Rio Grande Scenic from Mount Hood;
  • 1920s-era Pullman built Heavyweight Open Air Observation No 1056 “Lookout Mountain”. This open air observation car was built for the Southern Railway as coach 1595 and later rebuilt into an open air observation (eventually 2 other open air coaches (without rear platforms) followed No 1069 “Missionary Ridge” and 1070 “W. Graham Claytor”) and was heavily used on the Southern Railway Steam Specials between 1966 and 1987, finally coming to the Rio Grande Scenic from Mount Hood.;
  • 1950s-era restored Pullman Coaches with large sealed windows, heating, air conditioning, and concessions;
  • Lounge Car ‘Mardi Gras’ restored first-class lounge car with floor-to-ceiling observation windows in a rounded end observation lounge. This car was rebuilt from a coach by the Illinois Central for use on the ‘City of New Orleans’. Legend has it this was the car that the song of the same name was written in. After a stint in service behind N&W 611 the car returned to Illinois Central livery around 2010.;
  • Lounge Car ‘Calumet Club’ restored first-class lounge car with flat (or “blind end”) observation windows in a flat end observation lounge.
  • Dining Car 448 Former New York Central stainless steel fluted side lightweight dining car, restore and used in food service.


Special events

The Rio Grande Scenic operated a variety of special events, including Mother’s Day Brunch in the dome cars, Rails & Ales Brewfest, Jazz on the Tracks mountain concerts, Oktoberfest, fall foliage and pumpkin patch rides; and the Train to Christmas Town.

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