ALAMOSA– With the railroad bridge at Sierra seriously damaged and the stage at its concert venue at Fir destroyed, the San Luis and Rio Grande Railroad is temporarily out of business.
Matt Abbey, special events director for the Rio Grande Scenic Railroad, said the 50-foot bridge near Forbes Park was ravaged by the Spring Fire and nearly collapsed under the weight of empty hopper cars sitting on it. The concert site was primarily saved from the fire for now except for the heart of the venue, the box car replica stage.
A weekend concert featuring “Poco” was rescheduled for Richardson Hall at Adams State.
The Sierra Bridge, just east of the rail crossing into Forbes Park, will need to be replaced or adjusted to handle rail traffic, but owner Ed Ellis said plans are to have the line up and running again for freight next week. Hopper cars on and near the bridge were probably damaged as well.
The railroad was able to deliver five tank cars of water, over 100,000 gallons, to the Forbes crossing just off Highway 160, which is west of Sierra and the main fire path, to aid in the fire fight and plan to take more if needed.
Abbey said “priority one” is to get the railroad line to LaVeta open as soon as possible “so we can serve the freight customers whose business supports the railroad.”
He estimates that there are 400 jobs in the San Luis Valley that rely directly on rail freight.
The stage at Fir is another story.
“I don’t have the money to replace it right now,” Ellis said, not speculating on the future of the concert venue and explaining that he’s working on paying other bills and getting the line back up as soon as possible. “The stage can be replaced, but not the ‘green room’.”
The green room was part of the stage and was where acts prepared for shows and took breaks. Abbey noted that 10 years of memories were burned away as performers doodled personal messages free hand on the walls of the room.
With an estimated 300 concerts at Fir in the past 10 years with an average attendance of 250, the venue was visited by about 75,000 patrons.
Abbey said the RGSRR’s annual economic impact is $3.7 million, a large percentage of the $45.6 million in travel spending in 2017 in Alamosa County according to recently released numbers from the Colorado Tourism Office (CTO).
“Our goal right now is to just get the railroad back in service,” Ellis said.