CHAMA, NM & ANTONITO, CO, December 14, 2020…The historic Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad today announced that one of its coal-fired steam locomotives will be converted to operate on an oil-based fuel to diversify its fleet and to ensure it is prepared to safely function in a continually evolving operating environment.

The Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad (C&TS) and its predecessor, the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad, operated trains on the line with coal-fired steam locomotives since the 1880s. Recent environmental changes sometimes result in a dryer climate and are creating a more challenging operating environment with very dry or windy periods encountered more frequently. The railroad is committed to protecting the incredible landscape and scenery it has the privilege operating in. Slowing or stopping operations for any more than a short period of time would be financially challenging to the railroad, its employees and the communities which rely upon it as one of the region’s main economic drivers.

To better maintain operational continuity in varying weather conditions, the railroad will convert one of its steam locomotives, ‘Locomotive 489,’ from coal to oil firing. “We plan to have the #489 ready for use in this upcoming 2021 operating season. We have not forgotten, nor will we ever forget, the importance of our historical DNA and the critical role the C&TS plays in preserving the most authentic steam railroading experience available anywhere, now and for future generations. We will strive to always have the best examples of operating coal-fired steam locomotives in service when conditions permit,” said Interim CEO Eric Mason.

The C&TS is fortunate to have a world-class team that’s well versed in what it takes to complete such a conversion and is confident in their ability to complete the project. It’s unlikely that many guests will notice a big difference in the experience given steam is still the workhorse behind making these historic engines work. Oil fuel is also a historic method of supplying the energy required to generate steam, and although this was not the case on the historic Denver and Rio Grande, it does not significantly or permanently alter this historic locomotive, noted Stathi Pappas, Head of Special Projects, and Marvin Casias, Head of Railroad Operations.


The Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad is a 64-mile tourist line, operating between Chama, New Mexico and Antonito, Colorado and is jointly owned by the states of Colorado and New Mexico. The railroad is operated by the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad Commission, a bi-state organization authorized by an act of Congress in 1974. The Commission is composed of four members, two from each state, appointed by their respective state Governor.  A recipient of the National Historic Landmark Designation in 2012, the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad has won USA Today’s Reader’s Choice as the “Best Scenic Train in America” for several years, most recently in 2020. Trains operate daily from late-May to mid-October. For more info, visit

Click here for more details about the conversion to #489.