Our latest Recommended Railway Read is courtesy of Anthony Lambert a prolific award-winning travel writer, contributing articles to a wide range of national and international newspapers and magazines and who specialises in rail travel worldwide, Switzerland and Canada. Anthony has evidence of an interest in railways from the age of two and has since travelled on railways in over 55 countries and penned and contributed to 12 books on railway travel and journeys, including the Insight Guide to Great Railway Journeys of Europe. Our chosen book is his most recent Lost Railway Journeys from Around the World which is a celebration of the lost railway heritage and the lines that can no longer be travelled. It takes in the great cathedral-like railway stations of the steam age and the obscure lines built through spectacular landscapes. Illustrated with stunning images the book takes the reader as close as they can possibly get to the lost world of dining cars, sleeping cars, station porters and international rail travel. All of the featured railway routes have stories to tell and the lost journeys are captured in the old postcards and posters that accompany photographs drawn from collections and archives across the world. Below is an extract from the book that takes you to the ‘wild west’ of America and its pioneering railroads.
Colorado – Denver & Rio Grande
Talk of the narrow gauge in the US and the state that springs to mind is Colorado, though others, such as Maine and Oregon, also had fascinating systems. But the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad (D&RG) was in a league of its own for scale, scenery and colourful history. The last was helped by its founding father, the Anglophile General William Jackson Palmer who founded Colorado Springs and set up the Denver & Rio Grande Railway in 1870. His intention, never fulfilled, was to build a line south from Denver to El Paso. The following year he visited Wales’s Festiniog Railway while on his honeymoon, and the slate railway convinced him of the advantages of the narrow gauge, though he adopted a 3ft (914mm) gauge rather than the Festiniog’s 1ft 11½in (597mm).
The first section, between Denver and Colorado Springs, opened in October 1871 but the decision to turn westward rather continue south to El Paso brought it into competition for the right to build certain routes. Both physical and legal battles were fought between the D&RG and its arch rival, the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway, the D&RG losing Raton Pass but winning the Royal Gorge beside the Arkansas River. A network of lines was built up, in standard as well as narrow gauge, with the D&RG’s main line linking Denver and Salt Lake City. Expansion proved too rapid, and the costs of building the railway through the Black Canyon of the Gunnison on the line that eventually linked Mears and Montrose proved its undoing, even if the line deserved its marketing slogan ‘Scenic Line of the World’.
The San Juan Extension linking Alamosa with Durango was built as quickly as possible to exploit the mineral boom at Silverton, with numerous curves and loops that were slated for straightening out in a future that never came. The line crossed the Continental Divide at Azotea, and the lowest point on the line between Alamosa and Durango was 6,013ft (1,833m) asl. Chama, today the headquarters of the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad, was the principal station between Alamosa and Durango with a roundhouse which was home to the line’s rotary snowplough. Eastbound trains in particular faced a tough 15½-mile slog up to the Cumbres Pass, often requiring double-heading or banking, while westbound trains from Antonito had 50 miles of steady climbing. At Cumbres station was a wye for turning assisting locomotives with the rare feature of a wooden snow shelter over the reversing tracks. Huge wooden drum water towers resting on a frame replenished the locomotives’ tanks.
The D&RG went into receivership in 1884, only a year after taking a lease on the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railway which Palmer had set up in Salt Lake City to push eastwards from Provo in Utah. The D&RGW also went into receivership but emerged in 1886, as did the reincorporated Denver & Rio Grande Railroad with British and American shareholders. Construction of narrow-gauge lines through south-western Colorado continued, including the picturesque Rio Grande Southern (RGS) which closed the circuit by linking Durango and Ridgeway. Eventually there were 675 miles (1,080km) of narrow-gauge track.
Click here to purchase a copy of Lost Railway Journeys from Around the World via Amazon.