Scenic Railroad Board

The Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad Commission met Nov. 13 for its fall meeting, where commissioners discussed the railroad’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the selection of their new interim president. 

Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad Commission Board members appointed interim president Scott Gibbs as President of the organization. 

Gibbs had been acting as the president without pay, and because he is a member of the Board, he will continue to not receive a paycheck for his role.

“I have felt incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to lead this organization this summer. It’s been an amazing experience,” he said. “I wanna see some things we’ve gotten started continue and I think right now is not the time to be disrupting the momentum we’ve been building.”

The Board also rotated its officers’ positions. 

There was a fire at the Osier Eating House Sept. 23. Gibbs said the state fire investigators and insurance workers identified the cause of the fire as a faulty power cord in the bakery. This sparked a small fire, which spread to a recliner and fed a large fire causing extensive damage to the bakery and the kitchen and smoke damage to the rest of the building. 

Deconstruction of the building started in September with renovations expected to be completed somewhere between May and June and the lower floor and bakery kitchen sometime late next summer.

“We’re estimating over a quarter million in repairs,” Gibbs said. “That’s impacting an awful lot of what’s going forward. I wanna thank the staff of the Commission (for) getting a tent set up so we could serve meals. We only canceled trains for one day. It’s amazing what the entire Commission did to pull together and get us out of it.”

Gibbs also went over the safety reports for the year.

“Safety is always a big issue. We had seven reportable accidents this year,” Gibbs said. “A couple of them were slip, trip and fall events. One of them was a fight that broke out in Osier between the rider and kitchen staff. Others were volunteers’ safety is not where I want it, but we’re working on that.”

Gibbs said that during the season there were no COVID infections among the staff, and that one vaccinated staff member was infected post-season, but was recovering. 

In order to receive funding from the State of Colorado the Commission would need to meet federal vacation standards for employees to remain employed.

Total ridership for 2021 was 37,735 down from 2019’s 42,451, and 33,182 of the riders were daily excursion riders. Ticket revenue was up 104 percent compared to 2019.

In regard to finances, at the end of the season, the railroad opted to compare 2021 to 2019 due to the height of the COVID-19 pandemic adversely affecting operations. 

Gibbs said that in 2020 there were only around 11,000 riders. Also, the comparisons did not look at the 2019 holiday events because those had not happened in 2021 yet. 

During the season, the Commission hired Tomas Campos as its new business manager.

“Starting at the beginning of July, with all the issues we had, I was baptized by fire,” Campos said. “I believe we’ve made a lot of progress. We’re looking over all the business procedures, purchasing, cutting expenses and planning the schedule, so our ticketing problems should go away. I hope. It’s an unbelievably hard working staff. What everybody did was incredible.”

The Commission’s audit this year showed improvements over 2020. Commissioner Mark Graybill was happy with the drop in findings.

“The audit was a spectacular success. In the past, we had a number of findings and this year we only had a few minor findings,” Graybill said.

Gibbs said that in meetings with Colorado Governor Jared Polis the Commission was receiving funding from the state but he was uncertain whether the funds came from federal stimulus funds or from the state’s general fund.

Graybill said it was also uncertain exactly how much funding would be coming from the state next year and it wouldn’t be certain until April or May.

There was a presentation from Carlos Garcia who is in the process of requesting a private railroad crossing on his property. Garcia said he started the process in 2020 and submitted a legal basis for the crossing in April.

Garcia said the railroad that crosses his family’s property cuts off over 213 acres.

Garcia said there had been a lack of return correspondence from the Commission. 

“I feel a feeling of disrespect to the Garcia family,” Garcia said. 

The Commission went into closed session to discuss the crossing and concluded it could not take any action until a survey from the Army Crops of Engineers evaluated the crossing and its impact on the wetlands in which it lies.

The Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad will be hosting Christmas at the Depot this year on Dec. 11 in Chama and Dec. 18 in Antonito, Colo. on both days from 2 to 5 p.m. 

The train will not be running this year during holiday events. There will be a tree lighting, as well as a Christmas parade, and Santa will be greeting children.

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