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 Post subject: Feds sue Durango and Silverton over 416 fire
PostPosted: Tue Jul 02, 2019 6:16 pm 

Joined: Thu Oct 21, 2004 7:24 am
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Location: Canada
The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad is the cause of the 416 Fire, the U.S. Forest Service officially announced Tuesday.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office announced Tuesday a lawsuit on behalf of the U.S. Forest Service in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado against the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad Co. and its owner and operator, American Heritage Railways, Inc., that seeks to recover damages suffered as a result of the 416 Fire.

“The United States alleges that the fire was ignited by burning particles emitted from an exhaust stack on a coal-burning steam engine locomotive owned and operated by the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad,” according to a news release issued Tuesday.

Because the D&SNG started the fire, the Department of Justice says the railroad “should be held liable under federal and Colorado law for all the damages incurred by the United States as a result of the fire, including the costs of fire suppression and the costs to rehabilitate the public lands damaged by the fire.”

“Protecting our public lands is one of the most important things we do in the U.S. Attorney’s Office,” said U.S. Attorney Jason Dunn in a prepared statement. “This fire caused significant damage, cost taxpayers millions of dollars, and put lives at risk. We owe it to taxpayers to bring this action on their behalf.”

D&SNG owner Al Harper did not return a call seeking comment Tuesday afternoon. Denver attorney Richard Waltz, representing the railroad, declined comment.

Dunn, speaking to The Durango Herald, said the D&SNG has denied it caused the 416 Fire.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office attempted to negotiate with the railroad, Dunn said. He wouldn’t comment further on how the negotiations went.

Though the cost of fighting the 416 Fire has been estimated around $40 million, the news release Tuesday says the federal government is seeking $25 million from the D&SNG. Dunn said additional costs may be determined going forward.

“If you operate a railroad that emits embers, then you have to be accountable if that conduct starts a fire, regardless of whether it was intentional, negligent or not,” Dunn said.

Tuesday’s announcement brings closure to one of the biggest questions for the community in Southwest Colorado: What started the 416 Fire?

According to the seven-page lawsuit, the D&SNG’s locomotives had ignited “multiple fires” along the 45-mile or so track from Durango to Silverton before the start of the 416 Fire.


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 Post subject: Re: Feds sue Durango and Silverton over 416 fire
PostPosted: Tue Jul 02, 2019 7:31 pm 

Joined: Sat Sep 04, 2004 10:54 am
Posts: 969
Location: Tucson, Arizona
Well, this is worth watching to see how it turns out. I can't imagine that this will help insurance costs.

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 Post subject: Re: Feds sue Durango and Silverton over 416 fire
PostPosted: Tue Jul 02, 2019 10:23 pm 

Joined: Sun Jun 23, 2013 1:16 pm
Posts: 105
Oh, the insurance co. will do to them like they do to us... "Well, you'll notice in the fine print of your policy.. that you signed here, here, here and here... that your deductible is 39 million dollars, doesn't cover incidents that occur on days that end in the letter "Y", and we have decided to cancel your policy and deny your claim. You will also note that the addendum you signed off on also forbids you from seeking arbitration in cases such as these."


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 Post subject: Re: Feds sue Durango and Silverton over 416 fire
PostPosted: Tue Jul 02, 2019 11:26 pm 
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Joined: Fri Jan 12, 2018 10:20 pm
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Location: Denver, CO
Very curious to see how this will end up playing out. From the handful of articles I've seen that have popped out, seems the general sentiment is that people hope with won't impact the railroad too negatively. Then again, there's the few that hope it shuts the whole thing down.

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 Post subject: Re: Feds sue Durango and Silverton over 416 fire
PostPosted: Wed Jul 03, 2019 12:25 am 

Joined: Fri Mar 05, 2010 3:41 am
Posts: 3616
Location: Inwood, W.Va.
News coverage.

https://durangoherald.com/articles/2839 ... g-416-fire

https://durangoherald.com/articles/2840 ... ic-leaders

https://durangoherald.com/articles/2795 ... es-in-2019

And an unfortunate letter to the editor--ugh!!

https://durangoherald.com/articles/2836 ... hing-train


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 Post subject: Re: Feds sue Durango and Silverton over 416 fire
PostPosted: Wed Jul 03, 2019 11:47 am 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 1:51 pm
Posts: 9331
Location: Somewhere north of Prescott, AZ on the Santa Fe "Peavine"
Add to the fun (and the last of your five free Durango Herald articles):

https://durangoherald.com/articles/283907

Two drunks (the one three times past legal driving limits, at 5 in the afternoon) passed out trackside, one struck and seriously injured.


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 Post subject: Re: Feds sue Durango and Silverton over 416 fire
PostPosted: Wed Jul 03, 2019 11:55 am 

Joined: Sat Sep 04, 2004 10:54 am
Posts: 969
Location: Tucson, Arizona
Very unfortunate but not entirely unexpected. I suspect that the railroad will be significantly impacted by the costs from the two cases. Shut down? Probably not but any settlements will be pretty hefty on the financial end of things. The railroad had previously settled fire cases for amounts below the actual cost of fire suppression, so the US Attorney may play hardball with the railroad on this one.

Regardless of the outcome, I strongly suspect that the days of coal on the D&S are over.

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 Post subject: Re: Feds sue Durango and Silverton over 416 fire
PostPosted: Thu Jul 04, 2019 11:53 am 

Joined: Mon Sep 24, 2018 8:49 pm
Posts: 30
Time to convert a couple of thier locomotives to oil firing or pickup a pair of the Alco DL535's that the White Pass was looking to sell off awhile back. Use them when fire danger is high. Even those Alco's would be an attraction in themselves, paint them up in a faux DRGW scheme like LGB did in G scale. I hope it doesnt shut the railroad down, hopefully they will settle out of court and some operating changes implemented to mitigate the risk from stack ember fires.


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 Post subject: Re: Feds sue Durango and Silverton over 416 fire
PostPosted: Fri Jul 05, 2019 4:06 am 

Joined: Mon Jul 02, 2018 8:04 pm
Posts: 163
Durango is almost entirely dependent on the railroad. I remember reading when the railroad was shut down last year for flooding, they said revenues for the town was down 40%. I can think of a few outcomes regarding this lawsuit.

1.) The insurance company will be dealing with this mess for years and years. They will claim the fine is excessive, hire arson investigators, claim the fire department was negligent, etc. It will go from city courts, to State courts, to Federal courts, where it will be appealed over and over regardless of the outcome. 10 years later the railroad will settle for 1-3 million.

2.) The railroad ends up in bankruptcy and is put up for auction. Considering this railroad is one of the fattest cash cows in the country, it wouldn't be hard to find another operator.

3.) The city will claim the town is jeopardy with out the railroad and declare a national emergency. The State of Colorado would likely take over and fund the railroad until they are dependent again.

4.) Ask the businesses in the town help pay the fine. It's obvious with out the railroad the town would slowly die off.

5.) Sell the railroad for 25 million to another operator and pay the fine. It's a losing situation but at least you would rid yourself of the years of stressful court cases, lawyers, harassment, etc. At least this way you would save the town.


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 Post subject: Re: Feds sue Durango and Silverton over 416 fire
PostPosted: Fri Jul 05, 2019 9:46 am 

Joined: Sat Aug 25, 2007 12:45 am
Posts: 637
Tom F wrote:
Durango is almost entirely dependent on the railroad.
I disagree - Durango has become a college town with a (small) regional airport. The town also happens to have a tourist railroad.
Quote:
It will go from city courts, to State courts, to Federal courts, where it will be appealed over and over regardless of the outcome.
First post is a cut-and-paste of a copyrighted article that states the US Attorney has filed in federal court.
Quote:
10 years later the railroad will settle for 1-3 million.
I doubt that the Harpers have the resources to undertake a 10-year long legal fight with the federal government.
Quote:
Considering this railroad is one of the fattest cash cows in the country, it wouldn't be hard to find another operator.
The D&SNG is not a "cash cow".
Quote:
3.) The city will claim the town is jeopardy with out the railroad and declare a national emergency.
A city cannot declare a national emergency.
Quote:
4.) Ask the businesses in the town help pay the fine. It's obvious with out the railroad the town would slowly die off.
If the railroad went away Silverton would be in a world of hurt. Durango could survive and thrive without it.
Quote:
5.) Sell the railroad for 25 million to another operator and pay the fine. It's a losing situation but at least you would rid yourself of the years of stressful court cases, lawyers, harassment, etc. At least this way you would save the town.
Why would anyone pay $25 million for an enterprise whose business model ensures it is likely to incur more $25 million fines in the future?


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 Post subject: Re: Feds sue Durango and Silverton over 416 fire
PostPosted: Fri Jul 05, 2019 5:42 pm 

Joined: Wed Jan 20, 2016 1:15 pm
Posts: 528
If the railroad loses this case it will likely result in the loss of many coal fired locomotives.


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 Post subject: Re: Feds sue Durango and Silverton over 416 fire
PostPosted: Fri Jul 05, 2019 5:58 pm 
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Joined: Fri Oct 01, 2004 2:46 pm
Posts: 2090
Location: Pac NW, via North Florida
People always say that the public doesn't care what's on the front end of the train, but in the case of D&S, I don't think that's valid.
I just rode it at the start of last month, with a group of non-railfan types. And they were almost to a person, very interested in steam being up front. I heard a few say that it wouldn't be as 'cool' with a diesel up front and a few made comments about the diesel we saw in the Durango yard (#7, the center cab) as we headed to Silverton, that they were glad that wasn't on the head of our train (pulled by 476).
The night before, I was taking photos of the trains coming back and I then went alone to dinner. I talked with a nice group of locals at a good hole-in-the-wall pizza place near the depot in Durango, and they said they had long ago confirmed that steam was a huge draw for the railroad, even among the non-foamer crowd.

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Last edited by p51 on Tue Jul 09, 2019 12:13 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Feds sue Durango and Silverton over 416 fire
PostPosted: Sat Jul 06, 2019 7:46 pm 

Joined: Sat Sep 04, 2004 10:54 am
Posts: 969
Location: Tucson, Arizona
Crescent-Zephyr wrote:
If the railroad loses this case it will likely result in the loss of many coal fired locomotives.


Even if the railroad doesn’t lose the case, the days of coal burning on the D & S are pretty much done. My bet is that the railroad will eventually settle with the feds and one of the stipulations will be no coal burning. Al Harper is a smart business operator-I would not be surprised if they aren’t already planning a conversion program to switch all of the steam locomotives over to oil burning in an orderly fashion.

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 Post subject: Re: Feds sue Durango and Silverton over 416 fire
PostPosted: Sat Jul 06, 2019 7:54 pm 

Joined: Wed Jan 20, 2016 1:15 pm
Posts: 528
I plan on getting out there this summer just in case. I’m guessing the smaller engines will be left coal burning and run in the winter and for the photo charters. Slowly the larger locomotives will all be converted to oil. That’s just my guess though. Obviously anything can happen.


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 Post subject: Re: Feds sue Durango and Silverton over 416 fire
PostPosted: Sat Jul 06, 2019 9:25 pm 

Joined: Sat Sep 04, 2004 10:54 am
Posts: 969
Location: Tucson, Arizona
Crescent-Zephyr wrote:
I plan on getting out there this summer just in case. I’m guessing the smaller engines will be left coal burning and run in the winter and for the photo charters. Slowly the larger locomotives will all be converted to oil. That’s just my guess though. Obviously anything can happen.


Maybe and maybe not. Another consideration is that their insurer can insist on total conversion to oil. The railroad is in no condition to negotiate, given the fact that there are two ongoing lawsuits that are going to cost the company dearly. It’s not like the railroad can change insurance carriers. Insuring tourist railroad operations is a very niche market with only a couple of insurance carriers in the marketplace. No one else wants to touch the tourist railroad market-too much risk for too little benefit. My bet is that D & S will accelerate crew training on oil firing and institute a conversion program as quickly as possible to maintain their current operations level. I am certain that John Bush and the C&TS are studying this situation and developing a plan in case the owners of the railroad decide to convert their locomotives.

You may not know this, but when the new tender tank for TVRM 630 was built, it was designed to allow installation of a fuel oil tank in the coal bunker-the reason behind that being the general assumption of many steam locomotive operators being that a forced change to oil burning is coming. It’s not a matter of if, but when. Accidents like the 416 fire aren’t helping the coal faction any. Season doesn’t make any difference either. The HRA special last November set two fires that flared up very quickly on the trip to Cumbres. In fact, the weather conditions there dry out the vegetation, increasing fire risk unless you have a thick blanket of snow.

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