Judge refuses to allow Durango train to resume fire mitigation, bridge repair projects

DURANGO (AP) — A federal judge denied the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad’s plea to resume a fire mitigation project along its tracks as well as a separate project to repair a damaged bridge, The Durango Herald reported Tuesday.

In recent weeks, the U.S. Forest Service has ordered the railroad company to stop two projects along its tracks.

On May 27, the Forest Service sent the railroad a cease-and-desist order after concerns were raised that the railroad was removing and selling mass amounts of trees along its right of way to reduce fire risk.

Then, on July 2, the Forest Service told the railroad to stop emergency repairs at a bridge that was recently damaged by debris. The damage has cut off most routes to Silverton, one of the company’s hubs.

A spokesman for the Forest Service referred all questions to the U.S. Department of Justice. Jeffrey Dorschner, spokesman for the department, said in an email, the “U.S. attorney is pleased with the court’s decision,” but he declined to comment further.

The rejection comes amid a lawsuit filed by the Forest Service against the railroad over the 416 fire, which burned just under 86 square miles of land in 2018.

Judge Robert E. Blackburn said he rejected the railroad’s plea because they were unrelated to the case at hand. “Although this line of road is the same as that involved in this lawsuit, the issues which underlie the motion are otherwise completely unrelated to the issues before the court for resolution in this case,” Blackburn wrote.

John Harper, general manager of American Heritage Railways, which owns the D&SNG, said because of Forest Service actions, it’s unclear when the railroad’s fire mitigation project and bridge repair may resume.

“We have never in the history of the railroad needed to ask the Forest Service for permission to repair our own tracks,” he said. “So this is unfamiliar territory.”

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