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C&T visitor center goes to bid

Modified: Friday, Oct 12th, 2012

This is a bird’s eye view of the existing parking area. Photo courtesy of Friends of the Cumbres & Toltec

ANTONITO — On October 10, the Friends of the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad, Inc. in collaboration with the C&TSRR Commission, has issued a Request for Proposal (RFP) for architecture-engineering services for the proposed Chama Roundhouse and Visitor Center. 

This is an important first step in achieving the goal of reconstructing the historic Chama Roundhouse as a multi-purpose facility that will include a visitor center, a greatly enhanced repair center for the railroad, and space for the Friends’ restoration work.

The Friends were awarded funding from the Federal Highway Administration, through the New Mexico Department of Transportation’s Statewide Transportation Improvement Program, for this project. 

Services covered in the scope of the RFP include concept development and schematic design; design development; construction plans, engineering estimates/engineering opinion of probable cost; and specifications and contract book (the detailed specifications required for construction.)

Proposals are due by Friday, November 30.

The selected A&E firm will design a complete and usable multi-purpose facility, incorporating the remaining two bays and existing shop space of the historic roundhouse which was decommissioned by the railroad in the early 1950’s.  The reconstruction must be consistent with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties, specifically the National Park Service Reconstruction Standards.

During the 2012 summer work sessions, representatives of the Commission, Friends and the operator worked very closely together to develop the facility concept, which would satisfy all user needs.  This was a remarkable team effort. 

The resulting concept gives adequate space for a visitor center/museum in the existing roundhouse structure, using the old machine shop and two works bays, plus a reconstructed third bay.  The Commission and the operator have met their needs for a greatly enhanced repair facility, including a new machine shop and loading dock, along with added maintenance stalls in the new roundhouse.  The Friends would acquire a large restoration area, including some library and conference space. 

While the Friends are taking the lead on the first phase of this project, the Commission will take the lead during the follow-on construction phase. The role of the Friends during the construction of the facility will be to provide user input and lead the effort on fabrication and installation of exhibits for the visitor center and museum. The Commission and the Friends will jointly share responsibility for raising the funding needed to complete the project.

A dedicated web site which provides detailed information about the RFP, the proposed schedule, and conceptual designs can be accessed at


The C&TSRR is listed on the NPS Register of Historic Places as a nationally significant site. Built more than 125 years ago, the C&TSRR (a successor to the D&RG) is arguably the most authentic steam-era mountain railroad in North America, representing a key segment of the United States industrial revolution historic era. The present-day C&TSRR operates on the original 64-mile narrow-gauge line between Antonito, Colorado and Chama, New Mexico – called the San Juan Extension. Its equipment, structures and vast landscape exist today as if frozen in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The epitome of mountain railroading in North America, the D&RG operated the highest mainline rail line in the United States and served primarily as a transcontinental bridge line between Denver, Colorado and Salt Lake City, Utah. The railroad was a major transporter of coal and mineral traffic with a motto of “Through the Rockies – not around them.”

At its height, around 1890, the D&RG had the largest operating narrow-gauge railroad network in North America.

In 1969, the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) granted the D&RG’s request to abandon its remaining narrow-gauge main line trackage, thereby ending the last use of steam locomotives in general freight service in the United States. Most of the abandoned track was dismantled soon after the ICC’s decision.

Through the combined efforts of a resourceful group of railway enthusiasts from the region, the most scenic portion of the line was saved. In July 1970, the D&RG sold the line, along with its buildings, fixed structures and significant amounts of operating equipment to the States of Colorado and New Mexico for $547,120. The railroad then became known as the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad. The success of a small group of dedicated preservationists who literally saved the railroad for future generations to experience is an important piece of the history of narrow-gauge railroading in America.

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