The SL&RG is a basic short-line operation, collecting local freight and feeding it to a larger system– in this case, the Union Pacific Railroad. SLRG’s system is basically a huge Y, with the termini at the towns of Antonito in the south, South Fork to the west, and Walsenburg to
the east. It’s somewhat more complicated than that, but you get the general idea.
Operationally, most traffic comes online or originates at Monte Vista and Antonito. Monte Vista traffic is agricultural, with barley and potatoes coming in from the even-smaller short line San Luis Central (SLC). Unlike the SLRG, the SLC actually rosters a large number of freight cars, mostly covered hoppers and mechanical refrigerator cars. SLC delivers cars to the small yard at Sugar Junction, just east of Monte Vista. The SLRG’s Monte Vista turn picks up these cars and takes them to Alamosa’s East Yard. There is also Poole Chemical and Wilbur-Ellis near Monte Vista, both of whom receive carloads of ag chemicals.
Antonito has two customers who, for many years, accounted for the lion’s share of carload shipments on the railroad. The Harborlite Corporation (now owned by Imerys) perlite plant ships– you guessed it– perlite, and there is/was also a scoria operation there that shipped lava rock in open hoppers. See here for views of these operations prior to the creation of the SLRG proper.
There are other seasonal shipments, most notably incoming tank cars of magnesium chloride solution for CDOT’s use in de-icing highways. The SLRG also rents track for railcar storage, which has included intermodal spine cars, covered hoppers, tank cars, and most numerously, coal gondolas.
Basic operations looked like this. Incoming cars would arrive in Walsenburg on a UP local from Pueblo. The SLRG picks these up during the night and shuttles them over La Veta Pass to Alamosa. From Alamosa, two local trains were made up, one for Antonito and one for Monte Vista. The two locals would go out, drop cars and pick up cars, bringing these back to East Yard. In the afternoon a train was assembled of outbound cars, and this headed east sometime around 5:00 PM (give or take a couple of hours). This train would have most of the railroad’s locomotives, depending on its size, and crossed the pass in darkness. The outbound cars were dropped in Walsenburg, and the whole thing started over again. This was mostly a Monday-through-Friday pattern, with some exceptions.
Since the onset of the receivership in late 2019 the operating pattern is more difficult to discern, but the basics remain: SLRG is a feeder system to Union Pacific.
Of course, there are additional trains that run as required– far more than when the line was under Union Pacific’s control. And during the summer, the passenger operations add considerable variety.
For a look at the types of rolling stock used in the valley, see this page.
The SLRG interchanges with the San Luis Central RR at Monte Vista. This little railroad performs switching chores for a number of agricultural customers between Monte Vista and Center, and is actually a pretty busy line. The interchange traffic is handed off at Sugar Junction, which consists of a small yard running to the north, with a wye connection to the SLRG main.
In June 2006 the SLRG was storing hundreds of empty intermodal cars near South Fork. 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. The total of stored cars extended nearly to Monte Vista– a distance of close to 30 miles! These cars were later scrapped at a location near Fort Garland.