The San Luis & Rio Grande Railroad

Contemporary Operations in the San Luis Valley

On June 30th, 2003, the newly-formed San Luis & Rio Grande Railroad (SLRG) took ownership of the former Union Pacific trackage in Colorado's San Luis Valley.  Built in the 1870's by the Rio Grande, the tracks were operated by that railroad into the 1990's.  Rio Grande's 1988 merger with Southern Pacific brought cosmetic but not operational changes, and the 1996 buyout by Union Pacific was more of the same.  However, UP was in the business of shedding light branch lines, so the tracks beyond Walsenburg went to the SLRG, a creation of RailAmerica.

The tracks radiate from Alamosa in three directions: west as far as South Fork, south to Antonito, and east over La Veta Pass to Walsenburg.  More details of the operating practices can be found here and here; they haven't changed much from the 1980's.  Customers come and go, but the overall patterns remain consistent.

On December 22, 2005, RailAmerica sold the operation to Permian Basin Railways.  However, the railroad's operations remained relatively unchanged-- that is, in terms of freight operations.  The new owners, particularly Permian's president Ed Ellis, decided to reestablish passenger service in the valley.  In May 2006 a new excursion service was inaugurated, running passenger trains between Alamosa and Antonito, and Alamosa and La Veta.  It was designed to make a convenient connection with the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad, as well as opening secluded La Veta Pass to passenger traffic for the first time in over 50 years.  Four coaches originally from the Long Island RR were brought in to handle the passengers.

SLRG has always leased its locomotives.  Under RailAmerica ownership, this consisted of up to seven 4-axle units in the GP40 series.  After the sale, Permian leased a pair of GP39-2 locos and a quartet of modified F-40 cowl units.

We just happened to be passing through Alamosa on opening day for the SLRG, July 2nd, 2003.  The first day on the job had its share of headaches, evidently, since the locals hadn't departed by noon.  I managed a few shots downtown, and again of the Monte Vista local as it returned.

Viewed from the south side of the downtown yard, the new power is lined up next to the depot.  There are two paint schemes represented here.  The Monte Vista local is on the right, heading out with a cut of tank cars.

A closer look at HLCX No. 4301, in its maroon-and-blue livery (or is that brown?  I couldn't tell).  It turns out that this unit was originally Rio Grande No. 3065, a GP40-- back on home rails, albeit in camouflage...

The MV local returns later.  This is the first time I'd seen a unit running tail-end-first in the valley.  Evidently they didn't bother to turn the unit on the wye at Sugar Junction.

A little closer now.  My camera was acting up and underexposing everything on this day, dern it...


Here she is, HATX No. 805, eastbound under typical June skies. 


The SL&RG is an all-weather operation.  Here the westbound train to Sugar Junction is working through a heavy snowstorm on 12/28/2006.  Sometimes there's just no place to pull over for a good photo...

We came through Alamosa twice in late 2004, in September and again on November 12, 2004.  I captured the images below on those visits.  This was still a year before the Permian buy-out.

This look at No. 805 was actually in September 2004.  It's seen from the south, across the yard.  In the foreground you can see the evidence of old tracks being removed in the unused portions of the yard, in preparation for installation of the tank farm for railroad fuel.  There had been some segments of three-rail track still visible in the yard area until this project removed it all.
This photo also dates from September.  The 01423 was sold to SLRG along with the rest of the line back in 2003.  As you can see, the local taggers have found it.  I'm not sure of its current status, but I haven't seen it used on any local trains in a while.
An overview of the downtown yard area.  The track removal is painfully evident in this shot.
Taken on November 12th, this shot is of a high-nose GP40, a later arrival on the SLRG.  Per Nathan Holmes,  DGNO (Dallas, Garland & Northeastern, another RailAmerica line) No. 4016 was built in 1966 as Norfolk Western 1335 (and also became a Norfolk Southern unit of the same number).
Here's a look at the rest of the power present in the yard that afternoon.  HCLX (Helm Leasing) No. 4302, HATX Nos. 804 and 803, and HCLX No 4300 are not busy at the moment.  HATX No. 805 and HLCX No. 4301 are out on a job, apparently.
This view shows the new tank farm, recently installed. 

(I don't know what I have to do to get decent light for photos in this town; my luck has been terrible the past few years!)

The SLRG interchanges with another, smaller, shortline railroad at Monte Vista.  The San Luis Central RR performs switching chores for a number of agricultural customers between Monte Vista and Center, and is actually a pretty busy little line.  The interchange traffic is handed off at Sugar Junction, a location on the east side of Monte Vista, consisting of a small yard running to the north, with a wye connection to the SLRG main.

Looking north, we see a collection of box cars and mechanical reefers in the yard.  (6/30/2006)
Looking south towards the highway and the SLRG connection.  Several of the tracks have these blue stopsigns, permanently mounted on hinges between the rails.  There is no lettering on either side.  The tracks curve left and right to form the legs of the wye.

Here are views of the locomotive fleet under Permian.

Four of these modified F40PH locomotives are on the property, now designated as type F40M-2F-- this is No. 459.  Note that the nose has been foreshortened, and a front porch added.  A nose door allows easy access to the cab.  (6/30/2006)
Here's a shot by Earle Kittleman of a truck swap underway.  He and some companions witnessed this operation on 6/27/2006.  Apparently the railroad moved a truck from one of the F40's to another one.  I wonder why they didn't use the overhead crane that's still in the yard?  Capacity, perhaps?
GP39-2 No. 1389.  This and No. 1390 were originally built for Kennecott Copper, and used in the Bingham Canyon operation in Utah.  At that time they had unique high cabs that projected well above the roofline.  After Kennecott sold them, the cabs were rebuilt in a standard manner.  This unit spent some time with UP before ending up with lessor Independent Locomotive Service (ILSX).  Photo on New Years Day, 2007.
GP39-2 No. 1390.  See the note above.  Neither of these units has SLRG reporting marks on them, so they're evidently still being leased (as opposed to being purchased).  (1/01/2007)
F40M-2F No. 455, in the yard in Alamosa on 1/1/2007.  Per Nathan Holmes' site, the Canadian American railroad was a Maine operation that is now defunct.
F40M-2F No. 456, on the readyline in Alamosa 1/1/2007.  Note that these units have SLRG reporting marks, though the lettering differs from one to another.
Here's No. 459 again, buried in the string of locomotives on the second track over from the main. (1/1/2007)
This unit, B30-7 No. 7863, is an ex-Southern Pacific unit now owned by the Wagon Wheel Gap railroad (a tourist line that has yet to get off the ground).  The SLRG has been using it since early summer 2006.
RLCX (RAilway Equipment Leasing Company) No. 8524, a B39-8 built by GE.  The SLRG picked up two of these units around October 2006.  (1/1/2007)
RLCX No. 8527, also on the 2nd track over, on 1/1/2007.  These are the newest and most powerful units on the railroad, having originally been owned by LMX.  This type of unit was once common on the BN and BNSF.
From newest to oldest-- here's FP10 No. 1100,  built in December 1946.  It hasn't been used much yet (at all?) on the SLRG, mainly because it lacks dynamic brakes.  Evidently the intent is to utilize it in passenger service.  Sharp looking unit, this.


Passenger Train operations commenced in May 2006.  Here are a few shots of the equipment.

Here's one of the four ex-Long Island RR coaches that are lettered for the San Luis & Rio Grande. (6/30/2006)
Here's a broader view of the western portion of the downtown yard, looking northeast.  Visible are both of the Adirondack Scenic RR open-air cars (see below), as well as three of the maroon coaches and the ex-UP combine that is on loan from the Wagon Wheel Gap tourist line out at South Fork.
Nathan Zachman took this photo of one of the Adirondack Scenic Railroad cars while riding the train.  It's sitting in Occidental siding.  These cars have no glass, and seating consists of two rows of benches back-to-back down the middle of the car, facing out.  They function as observation cars. (5/27/2006)  Note: they were repainted in late 2006-- see below.
Another of Nathan's shots, showing the LITTLE RAPIDS side-on in Alamosa.  There are two of these cars on the property.  (5/27/2006)
Here's a look at the "coach yard" on 1/1/2007.  Near at hand are the two open-air "observation" cars, spliced by an as-yet-not-repainted coach.  In the distance are the enclosed coaches.
Coach 2948, awaiting the next season's work.
Coach 2970 has been damaged-- this may be the car that was involved in a truck-train accident during the summer of 2006.  It looks like all the glass is gone from this side, and there's a large gouge in the car at the left end.
Coach 2974, in the yard east of the depot.  It's coupled with No. 2970.
Here's No. 5067, formerly "Little Rapids" (see above), after repainting.  It looks sharp in SLRG paint.  Its mate has also been repainted but lacks the roadname lettering at this time.

In June 2006 the SLRG handled several trains of empty intermodal cars, taking them west to South Fork for storage.  The Wagon Wheel Gap technically owns the tracks where they were being stored.  I passed through on 6/30/2006 and photographed the cars.  There were miles of these mostly spine cars (TTUX) in storage, stretched out along the line from the track to Creede through town, and nearly to the highway rest area to the east.  They were broken at each grade crossing.

As of the end of the year, the collection of cars had grown until it extended nearly to Monte Vista-- a distance of close to 30 miles!

Here the cars are visible between the trees, on the bridge over the Rio Grande (south fork).  The track continues to the left towards Creede.  I couldn't see how far up the track the cars were parked, unfortunately.  (6/30/2006)
The local businesses seemed to expect the cars to remain in place for a long time.  Many of them had mounted portable signs on the cars to advertise their continued presence.  Here we have a barbecue establishment's sign, complete with festive decorations in honor of Independence Day (just a few days away).
The old water tank at South Fork is in good repair, complete with a historic Rio Grande "toilet-seat" herald painted on its side.  The cars occupied the track for at least three more miles eastward.  Two standard pig flats are visible in this view.

The San Luis Valley has been the setting for interesting railroad action for a long time, and doesn't show any signs of quitting.  I'll be adding to this page as opportunity and materials permit. 

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? 2006, 2007, James R. Griffin.  All rights reserved.