Mar 1, 2010 7:45 PM by Andy Koen

Tourism driving Railroad Renaissance in Colorado

The golden age of passenger trains is slowly making a comeback in Colorado fueled in part by tourism dollars.

The Rio Grande Scenic Railway in Alamosa has began hauling passengers and freight through the San Luis Valley four years ago.

General manager Mathew Abbey says in that time, ridership has steadily increased.

"We've seen 25 and 40 percent jumps in ridership in the last few years," Abbey said.

The Rio Grande is one of several small rail lines operating in Colorado's Mountain towns, giving the trains and rail lines a second life and the local economies a financial boost.

Jaime Greenman of the Alamosa County Convention and Visitors Bureau says the Rio Grande has been a valuable economic driver.

"The Sand Dunes has had a lot of families, a lot of outdoor enthusiasts and that sort of thing," Greenman explained.

"The railroad attracts a whole new market and a whole new age group for us."

Abbey says the main attraction to the trains is the scenery, of which their fleet of 9 Budd full-length dome cars provides passengers a comfortable panoramic view.

But there's also the history and the unique experience that a train ride creates.

"The train car is a fantastic place to deliver the story of wherever you're visiting," Abbey said.

During the course of a typical train ride Abbey says the group dynamic of the passengers changes noticeably.

"People sit with their spouse or their group of four and they keep to themselves and they're not trying to make too much noise, and after about an hour or two, the conservations are across the aisle, the spouses are spilt up across either end of the car and everybody is making new friends."

He says that group dynamic that is unique to passenger trains, and it's an experience and they're hoping to sell for years to come.

The Rio Grande Scenic Railway offers passenger service year-round from their depot in Alamosa.  On weekends, the passenger trains pick up in La Veta, making for a shorter drive for Passengers along the Front Range.

The Durango Silverton Scenic Railroad offers limited winter trips, but will begin their seasonal daily service starting later this month.

The Royal Gorge Route in Cañon City will also begin its spring schedule this month.



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