SHL Alumnus has been working on the railroad

‚ÄčEric Mason is a 20 plus year hospitality veteran. He graduated with a degree in hospitality management from the COB’s School of Hospitality Leadership. He’s been active with SHL for ten-plus years as a member of SHL’s Board of Advisors.

Based in Colorado, Mason recently was asked by the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad Governor Appointed Commission to step in and review the Railroad’s business. As part of the project, he specifically was asked how to optimize and enhance operations, personnel, products and services.

The Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad originally was constructed in 1880 as part of the Rio Grande’s narrow-gauge San Juan Extension. It served the silver mining district of the San Juan Mountains in southwestern Colorado. The inability to interchange cars with other railroads led the Rio Grande to begin converting its tracks to standard gauge in 1890. In 1970, the states of Colorado and New Mexico jointly purchased the most scenic portion of the track and line-side structures from Antonito, Colorado to Chama, New Mexico.

Strategic planning

For the project, Mason has been interviewing every team member, numerous guests and the local business community. He’s looking for themes from the organization to identify opportunities for improving the employee and guest/rider experience and provide thoughts of how services can be enhanced and expanded.

Mason has outlined the following challenges:

  • A focus on the Railroad operating equipment and not guests or facilities
  • Untrained teams
  • Lack of organizational structure
  • No strategy
  • A tiny local talent pool
  • Economically challenged locations

Railroad concepts that are being considered include

  • Creating a tourism stretch between the two origins Antonito and Chama. This stretch could include self-contained lodging/sleeping units, perhaps Stagecoach Wagon’s that are pre-built and delivered
  • Glamping Style Tents or Built-out Sleeping Train Cars that have all the amenities needed for a comfortable stay
  • Camping trip, fishing trips and rail bike rides
  • Themed Train Rides that could include Celebrity Chef Train Rides to one of the dining facilities/locations
  • Night rides, holiday rides and shortened rides

Mason also is actively looking at how to deploy Wi-Fi initially at the dining locations, increasing that across the entire line. The Wi-Fi addition could provide a needed amenity for guests and aid the operational team to maintain communication.

To help with authenticity, experienced expert artisans who know how to work with raw materials are being looked at to help the equipment operations team maintain and restore equipment between 1878 and 1920.

Lastly, Mason is in the initial phase of reintroducing an organizational design, which he will begin to implement in late October/early November. Team members will need to be trained for their positions, including how to be managers.

Mason’s goal is to ensure the Railroad is viable and operational for another 100 years.


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