Anyone who's been following my trip reports for any length of time knows I have a fascination with the smaller, more obscure railroads, and when the opportunity came up to make two trips to New Mexico and Arizona within a few months, I jumped on it. A little over a year ago, I published a trip report on some of the the copper hauling shortlines of the Southwest. However, there were still several interesting little railroads that I didn't get a chance to touch on. The two top ones on my list were the Santa Fe Southern and the Grand Canyon Railway. Both of these lines owe their current existance, at least in part, to hauling a Southwest shortline's other best friend - tourists!
The first of the two unique shortlines we'll be visiting in this trip report is the Santa Fe Southern, or SFS. The SFS was born in 1992 of the ATSF's 18-mile, 125-year-old Santa Fe branch, running between its namesake town and the Raton main connection at Lamy, NM. While the corridor was recently sold to the State of New Mexico for trail and possible future commuter train use, the SFS continues as the designated operator, continuing to provide their successful tourist and freight service. Today, they have two first generation diesels, which, depending on the season, run a variety of pure passenger and mixed freight and passenger trains. During the winter, they run two of these mixeds every week. I was on my way to Phoenix, AZ, for work in late January, and stopped by Santa Fe to photograph the mixed on Saturday, 29-Jan-2005.
In the second half of the report, we'll take a look at my two visits to the Grand Canyon Railway. The GCRy is a remarkable rebirth story, taking the ATSF's former Grand Canyon line and rebuilding it into a wildly successful tourist hauler. The line was originally built to serve copper mining interests, but when those failed to pan out, the Santa Fe saw the tourist potential of the Canyon and began aggressively developing that potential. By the late 1960s, though, passenger service fell to only a few thousand people every year, and service was discontinued. The line was given up for good in 1974, and sat essentially idle until 1988. In that year, a local investor got involved, purchased the line, and turned it from sixty-five miles of weed-infested, abandoned track to a world class, steam-powered tourist railroad that hauled nearly 200,000 passengers in 2004 alone (almost three times the Santa Fe's best year). It has to be one of the most remarkable comeback stories in modern North American railroading.
We'll take two looks at the GCRY. The first time I stopped was on the return leg of my business trip to Tucson, where I managed to catch the northbound run, powered by a rare FPA-4 and FPB-4. Four months later on Memorial Day Weekend, my wife and I returned on vacation as customers, riding behind GCRY 29, an Alco 2-8-0, to the Grand Canyon and back. In addition to the rare fleet of Alcos, both diesel and steam, you'll see the GCRY's newest piece of power, a rebuilt ex-Amtrak F40PH #239 charged with pulling a section section of the daily train. The route is rather difficult to photograph, as it doesn't follow many roads, making following by car difficult, and is largely straight with broad curves, making it difficult to photograph from the train. Still, I've managed to assemble a decent set of photos to give you a general idea of the trip.
Thrown in for general interest and some relation to the area are looks at the excavation of the old ATSF engine house and first depot in Santa Fe, a few photos from the Copper Basin Railway, some of the BHP Arizona (former San Manuel Arizona) actually moving around in San Manuel, and a few other oddities of interest. I've tried to assemble some backstory on both of major lines in this report based on sources I had handy, and while I think they're correct, I'm always open to correction when I have errored. As usual, I hope you enjoy the trip report.