Chama frets over tourist season without train
CHAMA, N.M. – Business owners who rely heavily on summer tourists are concerned about their prospects after the New Mexico side of the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad halted departures from Chama because of a fire on a 100-foot trestle.The blaze that started late Wednesday night is believed to be human-caused. State fire marshal’s investigators were looking into it.Railroad ties burned on the Lobato Trestle four miles north of Chama, and a wildfire started after they fell into the ravine below. State Forestry Division spokesman Dan Ware said Friday the 2-acre blaze was 80 percent contained.The railroad, jointly owned by the governments of New Mexico and Colorado, is offering passengers the option of being bused to Antonito, Colo., for a train trip on the line’s Colorado side. The railroad is celebrating its 40th year this summer.Barbara Hogan, who runs The Hotel and Shops across from the Chama Depot, said her 10-room hotel has 90 percent occupancy during the train’s late May to mid-October run, and she closes the rest of the year. News of the fire was difficult to absorb.She said in Chama, the train “is the economy. Very simply, it is the economy.”Said Patsy Gallegos, owner of Gallegos Video and Ice Cream Parlor, “Without the train, we can’t survive.”Railroad spokesman Nick Quintana said the Cumbres & Toltec averages at least 200 passengers daily, and sometimes up to 600 or 700.Authorities have ruled out lightning or some other natural cause.”It’s safe to say that we’re pretty certain it’s human-caused,” Ware said.There was a fireworks display in Chama on Wednesday night. Ware said authorities aren’t ruling out fireworks as a possible cause but noted the display “came from in town and the bridge itself is a few miles out of town.”Quintana said when the trestle can be used again depends on whether its steel superstructure was damaged. He said an assessment team planned to inspect the trestle Friday and Saturday, and results should be known by Saturday evening.”The best-case scenario is if the steel structure isn’t damaged, three weeks is what we’re probably looking at,” Quintana said. “Worst case, it could take several months, the rest of our season.”
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Pitkin County administrators are proposing a more than $142 million budget for 2020, which is about $6 million less than this year because of fewer construction projects and capital improvements.