History of the Rio Grande Scenic Railroad
Alamosa, like most of our country, grew up with railroads. And while the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad put many towns on the map, none went up quite as quickly as ours.
The narrow gauge rail into town was completed on June 22, 1878, and shortly after, a train full of assorted pre-built buildings from nearby Garland City were brought in and put into place that same day. Rumor has it, in fact, that the men who worked the line had breakfast in Garland City that morning, and were later served dinner in the same building that evening – in Alamosa.
Back then, the town’s commercial center was located on what is now Sixth Street, with a couple of buildings to the north on what is now Hunt and State. Alamosa soon became an outfitting point for southern Colorado and northern New Mexico, and by 1880 the population had topped 800, making it the largest and liveliest town in south central Colorado.
With its large railroad station, Alamosa harbored all sorts of rowdy characters – among them construction huskies, sheep herders, cow punchers, miners and gamblers – as well as a large Spanish-speaking community that had settled the area in 1854.
During the same period, in 1880, construction was under way on a rail line leading to Antonito and then, ultimately, to Santa Fe. At the same time, rail construction west through Monte Vista, Del Norte and South Fork was also under way and was finally completed in 1881. Nine years later the track was extended from Salida to Alamosa, and by 1890, and for the following half-century, Alamosa was the hub of narrow gauge railroading in America.
The busy depot hummed day and night with the activity of both passenger and freight trains from Denver, Durango, Santa Fe, Salida and Creede arriving and departing daily. The freight trains supplied the developing valley with ore, lumber, cattle, sheep and farm products, and in turn, agricultural and mining products were shipped out.
Less than a decade later, after years of unsuccessful surveying, a workable route was found and the narrow gauge rail would be replaced by standard gauge from the town of La Veta over La Veta Pass and into Alamosa.
Today, more than 100 years later, the same standard gauge rails are still in use, carrying both freight and passengers over La Veta Pass on the San Luis & Rio Grande Railroad and the Rio Grande Scenic Railroad.