A late season double-headed passenger train ascends Cumbres Pass. Photo: Curt Bianchi

Owned by the states of Colorado and New Mexico, the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad is the best-preserved steam era railroad in North America. Built in 1880 and little changed since, the C&TS is a 64-mile portion of the former Denver & Rio Grande three-foot narrow gauge railroad system that once extended from Denver to Santa Fe and Silverton. In the late 1960s this classic of railroad engineering was rescued from extinction by the combined efforts of a group of citizens and the governments of the two states through which it runs. The states established a joint commission to oversee the railroad, and its operation was placed in the hands of a series of commercial operators selected by competitive bidding. Today the railroad is operated by the C&TS Management Corporation (CTSMC), a non-profit corporation formed expressedly for the purpose of operating the railroad under a management contract between the commission and CTSMC.

During the operating season, which typically runs from Memorial Day weekend to the middle of October, visitors ride daily passenger trains that are hauled by authentic Rio Grande steam locomotives, affording tourists magnificent views of the San Juan Mountains, Toltec Gorge, and the Rio Grande Valley. (For information about train rides, visit the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad web site.) At the old roundhouse town of Chama and other locations visitors are able to observe the day-to-day work of a bygone era, and tour buildings and rolling stock that are still in use as the were during the railroad’s heyday.

The entire railroad is designated a National Historic Site. It is the longest narrow gauge railroad in North America, and with a peak elevation of 10,015 feet, it is also the highest. The trains are pulled by original Rio Grande steam locomotives. The railroad has well over 100 historic freight and maintenance-of-way cars, some dating to the nineteenth century. The C&TS has four historic sites along its right-of-way: The Chama yard; Cumbres, Colorado; Osier, Colorado; and Sublette, New Mexico. Each of these sites has railroad buildings dating to near the original construction era. The C&TS attracts visitors from around the globe, and was recently named "one of the best 20 railway experiences in the world" by the Society of International Railway Travelers.

The railroad is managed for the states by the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad Commission, an interstate agency authorized by the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad Compact, an act approved by Congress on October 24, 1974. The commission is comprised of four commissioners--two from New Mexico and two from Colorado--appointed by the governors of each state. New Mexico is represented by Chairman David Cargo, and Carl Turner. Colorado is represented by Carol Salisbury and Wayne Quinlan. An executive director administers the commission’s affairs, and is the only full-time paid employee. More information about the commission members can be found at the commission page.

The commission has designated the Friends of the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad as the official museum support group for the railroad. As such, the Friends’ mission is to interpret the railroad for the public, and to preserve the historic structures and rolling stock that are not used by the operator for passenger train service.