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Rail News: Federal Legislation & Regulation

Durango & Silverton Railroad to pay damages for 2018 wildfire


The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad Co. and parent company American Heritage Railways have agreed to pay $20 million in damages to compensate the United States for a 2018 fire near Durango, Colorado, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Colorado announced yesterday.

The railroad also agreed to modify its operations to reduce wildfire risk, federal officials said in a press release.

"We intend for this settlement to enable the railroad to continue to operate, but in a manner that will avoid causing future catastrophic wildfires," said U.S. Attorney Cole Finegan. "In addition, this agreement ensures fair compensation for the damages caused by the 416 Fire.”

The agreement arises from a lawsuit involving the “416 Fire,” a wildland fire that was ignited June 1, 2018, in the San Juan National Forest near Durango. The fire burned more than 54,000 acres of federal land by the time it was fully suppressed about six months later.

The fire damaged natural habitats and caused erosion and other natural resource damages on federal lands within the San Juan National Forest. It also threatened private residences, requiring emergency evacuations. The federal agencies that responded to and suppressed the fire, including the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, incurred significant costs, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.  

Federal fire investigators concluded that the fire was caused by particles emitted from a smokestack on a coal-burning steam train engine owned and operated by the railroad. In July 2019, the United States sued the railroad to recover damages for the fire.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

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