Santa Fe Branch Facts
The Santa Fe Branch line arguably began at Alamosa. The Rio Grande's original reason for building into the San Luis Valley was to reach the headwaters of the Rio Grande (river) and then follow the water-grade route all the way down to Albuquerque and El Paso. In 1879, keeping with this original goal, the first 29 miles from Alamosa to Antonito were graded, with rail being put down early in 1880. While for the sake of categorization I keep them separate as the Antonito Branch, they were really built as the first leg in the stretch towards Albuquerque.
As a result of the Treaty of Boston?, signed between the D&RG and the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe on 27-Mar-1880, the Rio Grande was prohibited from building south of Espanola, NM - basically AT&SF country. Prohibited from building southward, the D&RG's attention quickly turned westward towards the mineral riches of the San Juan Mountains in southwest Colorado. The San Juan Extension sprung westward from the wye at Antonito, which is why the Antonito Branch is considered separately from the Santa Fe Branch. However, the D&RG finished the original southward extension as far as it could, beginning service to Espanola on 31-Dec-1880.
The Grande could not finish the line, but nothing was stopping another railroad from completing the route to Santa Fe and providing continguous service. In December of 1880, the Texas, Santa Fe & Northern was incorporated to do just that, declaring the line to be the San Juan Division. By 1882, work started building northward from the AT&SF at Santa Fe to reach the D&RG, a distance of about 38 miles. Despite the amount of grading that the D&RG had already done and abandoned in place in 1880, the TSF&N ran into financial trouble almost immediately. Work essentially stopped for four years and what little completed track was in place just sat idle.
Finally, on 21-Oct-1886, work started again, and with a furious pace. Only 2 1/2 months later, on 8-Jan-1887, the TSF&N completed the line into Espanola, finally completing the narrow gauge route into Santa Fe. The small line would become the original Santa Fe Southern in 1889 and then become the Santa Fe & Rio Grande in 1895. Shortly thereafter, title was transferred to the D&RG, and the line became an integral part of the Santa Fe Branch.
The branch was pretty much a straight shot to Santa Fe, both to get traffic flowing in and out of the town, and to fulfill an original part of the D&RG Charter that specified the road would reach Santa Fe. Otherwise, the branch had little reason to exist, as there were exceedingly few sources of online traffic. The only major spur to come off the line was the La Madera Branch, built in 1914 westward from Taos Junction to serve the Hallack & Howard Lumber Company at La Madera, NM. In addition to the relatively well-known La Madera Branch, at least two other lumbering branches once existed. Both started near Tres Piedras at separate junctions, both named Stewart Junction, and both were around 2 miles long. Both stubs existed to serve the operations of the Stewart Lumber Company.
As a note, the line is offically referred to as the Santa Fe Branch. However, usually it's just called the "Chili Line". While some sources have tried to attribute this to the chili peppers prominently grown and displayed in the area the line passes through, more likely is that it refers to one of the ethnic culinary staples - green chili - of the line's clientele.
By 1940, the D&RGW once again found itself in receivership, and the Santa Fe Branch was at the top of the list of appendages that could be lopped off. The Grande estimated that the line was losing some $50k every year that it stuck around, and that significant capital would need to be sunk to maintain service much longer due to the deteriorated condition of the route. Locals, however, had a bit of a different opinion - that the Grande was deliberately sabotaging service so as to eliminate as much narrow gauge as possible. After a rather protracted and heated battle for abandonment, the ICC finally relented and service ceased in 1941.
Santa Fe Branch Timetable