Durango was founded by the Denver & Rio Grande Railway in 1880. The railroad arrived in Durango on August 5, 1881 and construction on the line to Silverton began in the fall of the same year. By July of 1882, the tracks to Silverton were completed and the train began hauling both passengers and freight.
From the very beginning, the railroad was promoted as a scenic route for passenger service although the line was constructed primarily to haul mine ores, both gold and silver, from the San Juan Mountains. It is estimated over $300 million in precious metals has been transported over this route
By 1885 the population of Silverton had grown to 1100 and Otto Mears completed the toll road to Ouray and additional narrow gauge track out of Silverton was laid down in 1887. In 1893, 10 large mines in the Silverton district were forced to close when silver prices dropped from $1.05/oz to $.63/oz. Just three years later the Yankee Girl and Guston Mines played out. In Durango, the fire of 1889 virtually destroyed downtown and the first automobile arrived by train in 1902. By 1906, Mesa Verde was designated a National Park, increasing the potential for tourism promotions.
Throughout the next twenty years the railroad faced many challenges; slides, floods, snow, war and financial instability. When the US Government entered WW I, it assumed operation of the railroad. Shortly after resuming control of railroad operations, the D&RGW reorganized due to financial difficulties. Silverton suffered devastating effects from the Spanish Flu Epidemic of 1918 – 10 percent of the population died in just six weeks! In addition, the Gold King Mine closed, the Sunnyside Mine temporarily ceased operations for almost ten years and the Silverton Railroad closed.
Today the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad continues to provide year-round train service, operating a historical train with rolling stock indigenous to the line. The locomotives used to pull today’s train remain 100% coal-fired, steam-operated. The locomotives are 1923-25 vintage and are maintained in original condition. The coaches each feature bathroom facilities and are heated during the winter months for passenger comfort. Open gondola cars provide a panoramic view of the mountains. Concessions are available on every train. The Durango & Silverton is owned and operated by American Heritage Railways.