Postcard photo of the San Juan Express, taken possibly in 1949. The San Juan Express was a narrow gauge passenger train operated by the

Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad between 1937 and 1951. The route was between Alamosa and Durango, Colorado.

When it was in operation, it was the only narrow-gauge passenger train left in the United States that ran on a regular schedule.

(Narrow Gauge Motel, Alamosa, Colorado, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)


San Juan Express drumhead.


The San Juan Express (also known as simply the San Juan) was a narrow gauge train that ran on the 3 feet (0.91 m) Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad (D&RGW) route from Durango, Colorado via Chama, New Mexico; Cumbres Pass; and Antonito, Colorado to Alamosa, Colorado. The train ran from February 11, 1937 until January 31, 1951 as train numbers 115 and 116, though towards the end of the passenger service it took on the number 215 and 216.

The railroad line was closed by the D&RGW in 1968 and much of the narrow gauge trackage has since been abandoned. A surviving portion of the narrow gauge track in the route is the 64 miles (103 km) long Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad between Antonito and Chama which calls its westbound train the Colorado Limited and its eastbound train the New Mexico Express. The line from Antonito to Alamosa is now standard gauge only and belongs to the San Luis and Rio Grande Railroad. Normally, from Alamosa to Chama, a D&RGW K-36 (Or K-37) class locomotive, either 482, 483, 484, 485, 488, or 489 would haul the 4 to 5 car consist. At Chama, the K-36 and their crew would be swapped out with a D&RGW K-28 and their crews would take over from Chama, to Durango. On the return journey it would be the other way around. However, there is photographic evidence of a K-36 locomotive hauling the train the entire length.

Normally, the train would be 4 cars long, which consisted of a Railway Post Office Car, or RPO for short, a Baggage Car, a Passenger Car, and a Parlor Car. But there is photographic evidence of the train having as many as 8 cars.

According to a 1941 timetable, The Westbound train would depart Alamosa at 7:00 A.M., arrive at Antonito at 8:05 AM, Chama at 11:15 A.M., and Arrive at Durango at 4:05 P.M. The Eastbound would depart Durango at 11:15 A.M., Arrive at Chama at 4:05 P.M., Arrive at Antonito at 7:25 P.M., and arrive at Alamosa at 8:30 P.M.


K-36 class locomotive 484 on the Cumbres & Toltec Railroad, preparing to depart with an excursion train from Osier, Colorado, July 24, 2021.

(Xboxtravis7992, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons)


Frequently used engines

One of the most frequently used locomotives on this route was and still is the steam wheel arrangement 2-8-2 D&RGW K-36 Mikado type. Other locomotives used on this route included the D&RGW K-27, the D&RGW K-28, and the D&RGW K-37, and occasionally the D&RGW C-18. One K-27 and one K-37 are used on the Cumbres & Toltec, with C-18 D&RGW 315 periodically visiting both the Durango and Silverton and the Cumbres & Toltec railroads.


Sections used today

The Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad uses the portion from Antonito to Chama. The portion from Durango to Silverton (not part of the San Juan Express) is run by the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. The line from Antonito to Alamosa is now standard gauge only and belongs to the San Luis and Rio Grande Railroad.



Service type: Inter-city rail
Status: Discontinued
Locale: Western United States
First service: February 11, 1937
Last service: January 31, 1951
Former operator: Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad
Route Termini: Durango, Colorado / Alamosa, Colorado
Train numbers: 115 / 116