U.S. judge says Durango & Silverton knew fire risks of coal-powered locomotives before 416 Fire

Written by Bill Wilson, Editor-in-Chief
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A coal-powered train operated by Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad started as many as 50 fires in Spring 2018. The biggest one in the region came later, and burned more than 54,000 acres of national forest lands. Durango & Silverton denies it was the culprit of the 416 Fire in Durango, Colo., on June 1, 2018, but the U.S. government is seeking $25 million in firefighting costs. The 416 Fire started adjacent to the Durango & Silverton tracks.

U.S. Judge N. Reid Neureiter filed a scheduling order on Sept. 17, and now says Durango & Silverton conductors noted fires caused by their locomotives in daily reports in the Spring 2018. Neureiter says according to the reports there were four dozen fires leading up to the 416, some which grew to 150 ft to 200 ft. Neureiter believes Durango & Silverton was aware of the risk leading up to the 416 Fire and also was aware they were operating in increasingly severe drought conditions.

Durango & Silverton says it was never approached by government officials to stop running the coal-powered trains. The railroad company also says the U.S. Forest Service did not perform wildfire mitigation which, it believes, created an above-average risk for wildfires.

Neureiter is not agreeing with Durango & Silverton’s defense. The judge says the argument that the U.S. government should be found negligent in this case comes without merit.

In early September, Durango & Silverton filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit claiming the U.S. government did not have the right to claim firefighting costs. Again, Neurieter disagrees, saying the U.S. “reserves its right to pursue additional categories of damages to be proven at trial.”

Durango & Silverton may be working out a settlement with the U.S. government, but if a settlement is not reached a jury trial could be scheduled for November 2020.

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Categories: Freight, Railroad News, Shortline/Regional
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