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Denver & Rio Grande Western

The Denver and Rio Grande Railroad (D&RG) was founded in 1870 by General William Jackson Palmer and his life long friend and partner Dr. William Bell as a narrow gauge railway system with the intention of connecting Denver with Mexico City. Narrow gauge was chosen because construction costs - and equally important, construction time - were lower than standard gauge. The route was to pass over Raton Pass in what is now northern New Mexico. Feverish, competitive construction provoked the 1877-1880 war over right of way with the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway. Both rivals hired gunslingers and bought politicians. In the end, the Santa Fe won the right to Raton Pass, while the D&RG paid $1.4 million for tracks through the Arkansas River's Royal Gorge to the mining district of Leadville, Colorado. Subsequently, the D&RG focused on exploiting the lucrative mining service opportunities to the west.


The Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad, often shortened to "Rio Grande" or simply D&RG, originally the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad, is a former common carrier passenger and freight system. The company started as a narrow gauge line running south from Denver, Colorado in 1870. At its peak, however, the D&RGW served as a standard gauge transcontinental bridge line between Denver, and Salt Lake City, Utah. The Rio Grande was a major origin of coal and mineral traffic in the region, and is perhaps best remembered for its sizable fleet of narrow gauge steam locomotives and related equipment. Today the tourist hauler Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad operates a historic section of former D&RGW trackage between its namesake towns in southwest Colorado.

1904 system map / web

See also our Rio Grande Southern Colorado shortline collection

1959 promotional flyer

1959 Durango & Silverton trip timetable

I was so pleased to find this photo at the bottom of shoebox full of photo odds and ends taken on my father's various twin-reflex cameras from the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s. He and my mother made a trek to Colorado in 1959, touring various railroad sites and taking a ride on the Durango & Silverton route (before it even bore that tourist name, still owned by the Rio Grande). Certainly my mother must have taken this particular snapshot. Although the photo lacks some sharpness, the color tones seem just right for a 1959 photo. I'm guessing that white shirt was not so clean by the end of their ride along the famous river line.

Links / Sources

This page was updated on 2016-04-23