The "Santa Fe" part of Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe, was really a statement of the railroad's western goals, rather than a point it initially connected. Founded by the Spanish back in 1607 (or 1610, depending on the source), centuries before the railroad came about, it was one of the stated destination of the original ATSF mainline over Raton Pass. However, because of its positioning high on the Galisteo Plateau, ATSF engineers found it difficult, if not impossible, to come up with a mainline alignment actually passing through town. The ATSF decided that its namesake town would have to be bypassed, upsetting many local residents and businessmen. In order to get itself hooked into the burgeoning railroad network, the city of Santa Fe subsidized construction (to the tune of a $150k bond) of a branch from the city to a point on the mainline some 18 miles distant, then called Galisteo Junction. The branch was complete on 9-Feb-1880, and regular passenger and freight service began a week later.
By 1992, the majority of Santa Fe freight went via the Belen Cutoff, a faster, lower grade route about 100 miles south. The ATSF itself would only exist for another two years, before being merged with BN to form today's BNSF. Galisteo Junction was now known as Lamy, renamed after Archbishop of Santa Fe, Jean Baptiste Lamy (1814-1888). Most importantly to this story, the ATSF no longer wanted the Santa Fe branch, and was looking to sell it. Two bids came in - one from a scrapper looking to tear out the line, and the other was a new shortline, the Santa Fe Southern. Needless to say, the line was sold to the SFS. Freight operations began in 1992, with passenger excursion service added in 1993. The line continued growing its freight and passenger operations over the next decade, hauling some 23,000 passengers per year recently. During January of 2005, another major change occurred - the SFS corridor was sold again to the State of New Mexico. This change leaves the SFS as the rail operator on the line, but protects the corridor for the public Santa Fe Rail Trail as well as for future commuter rail expansion as part of the New Mexico Rail Runner system.
I was driving across the Southwest to get to Phoenix, AZ, for work on Monday, 31-Jan-2005, and decided to hit the SFS as my first stop of the trip. The SFS operates two major types of passenger trains - the "Scenic Day Trains" and the "Hot Shots". They also run a number of special trains during other parts of the season - see their full 2005 schedule here. The Scenic Day Trains are real, honest mixed freights. In addition to hauling passengers from Santa Fe to Lamy and back, they stop along the line, switch out freight cars at customers, and interchange freight with BNSF at Lamy. They're one of the few railroads that does this in 2005 (apparently the Santa Cruz, Big Trees, & Pacific also does this when they get freight, and the A&M used to... Thanks to zephyrus from Trainorders for this detail!), despite it having been common practice back in the day. During the off season, these mixed trains only run on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, departing Santa Fe around 1100h and returning around 1530h. It just so happened that I'd be waking up in Santa Fe on Saturday, 29-Jan-2005, so I figured I'd go chase this little shortline.
As with many winter days around here, things started off cold, but relatively clear, with only a few high clouds messing with the light. Trips always start at the ATSF depot in downtown Santa Fe. This is actually the second depot for the ATSF in Santa Fe, having been built in 1909. It's at the north end of a small yard where the SFS stores its power and numerous interesting railcars, and located just south of the junction of Aqua Fria and S. Guadalupe Streets. If you take US 84/285 north through town, just drive north until you see the railroad cross the road, then look right. You'll figure it out from there - it's really quite easy to find.
The small railroad currently rosters two diesel locomotives, 92 and 93. SFS 93 began life in September of 1952 as Louisville & Nashville's GP7 414 (EMD serial 17242, frame 5128-5). It then became LN 2304, where it was rebuilt by new owner Seaboard Coast Lines to a GP16, SCL 4804. From there, it proceeded to be painted as SBD 4804, CSXT 1850, MNVA 1850, MCTA 1850, and finally, SFS 93. The road's other unit, SFS 92, was built in July 1953 as ATSF GP7 2861 (EMD serial 18566, frame 5288-13). It was later rebuilt as ATSF GP7u 2075, and then sold to the SFS as their 92. Both units are now painted in the distinctive SFS red and yellow scheme, and sit around Santa Fe when not out on the line. 93 seems to be the preferred unit lately, as I haven't ever seen 92 moving.
Today's train would be powered by SFS 93. (Photo #1) Following it was an empty green BN bulkhead flatcar, the SFS's open air passenger flat (SFS 99), and a 1920s vintage heavyweight coach/baggage car from the defunct Kettle Moraine Railway in Wisconsin (SFS 300). (The SFS itself has a page on their equipment here.) I set up the first shots just south of the ugly US 84/285 / Cerrillos Road crossing, where there was a large parking lot in which to sit and wait. There wasn't much waiting to do, however, as departure was only a couple minutes behind schedule (1100h). (Photo #2)
From this point, the railway is out of site from US 84 for about a mile, until at Siringo Road, the line comes due east to work its way down off of a mesa. It's a nice steep grade with a sharp corner at the bottom - on a trestle over the Arroyo de los Chamisos, no less! This area is easily accessed (like most of the SFS route) via a parallel trail. Also, there's a convenient trailhead parking lot at Zia Road, where it's a quick jog back to the trestle itself. If, as is my usual luck, you get stopped by every traffic light imaginable, then you'll get to this spot only marginally ahead of the train (Photo #3).
From that point, I decided to pass up any more shots on the north side of the freeway to go set up at an S-curve I'd found on a previous trip. If you take US 84/285 to the freeway but don't actually get on I-25, you'll wind up at a T-intersection with Old Aqua Fria Road. Take this west, then as soon as you've crossed the railway, hang a left. Follow this down and you'll find some amazing photographic possibilities as the trackage descends from Santa Fe across the Arroyo Hondo. I actually spent quite a bit of time waiting for the train here and thinking about how to set up the best shots. Eventually I started wondering if somehow he'd gotten past me and was on down the line. Ol' 93 did eventually show, though, as I was getting restless and thinking about leaving. As it turns out, they'd stopped at a customer to pick up a BNSF beer car (presumably empty and returning to the factory, BNSF 780890). Like I said, this is a real, working mixed train! (Photos #4,5,6)
South of this point, the line is really only accessible by walking, biking, or horseback on along the trail until a couple of crossings in the Eldorado subdivision. (There's supposedly a road to 9 Mile, but I couldn't find it...) To get to the Eldorado area, it's best to just hit the freeway back east to interchange 290, then take US 285 south to Avenida Vista Grande, about a mile and a half. Take this road back west, and you'll come to the grade crossing. As a note, you won't have nearly as much time on the train as you think, so hurry along... The railroad's radio base appears to be located at this point, as to the south of the road you'll see a steel shed and an antenna on a pole. Even through a subdivision, it still makes for a decent shot of the train. (Photo #7)
Next stop was the US 285 crossing, just west of Lamy itself. There are a couple other ways to get to the line in the subdivision, but I didn't want to take waste a lot of time. Partially this was because I was startled at how quickly the mixed had made the Vista Grande crossing, but it was largely due to not wanting to navigate the area's muddy roads in a low clearance car. Getting stuck in the mud tends to ruin the day rather quickly. Turns out it's easy to beat the train through this stretch, as when 93 and train did show up, they were moving much slower than before. Presumably this is due to the grade in the area - the line drops off rapidly to descend into Lamy. (Photos #8,9) Leaving US 285 and heading east into town, there's another trestle visible high above the road which made for a nice shot. (Photo #10). From there, it's a short drop down across the road, through the wye, and into the SFS track on the north side of the Lamy depot. (Photo #11)
While the passengers were fed and explored Lamy, the train crew went about interchanging the empties with BNSF and rearranging the train for the return trip. (Photos of Lamy will be in the next chapter.) In addition to the classic ATSF depot at the junction (Photo #12,13,14), there are several railcars sitting around that are rather interesting. The first is painted as the Atlantic Coast Line's Talladega on the south side (Photo #15) and as the Lamy Railroad & History Museum on the north side. Unfortunately it was closed for renovations, or I would have tried to find out more about it. The second interesting car sits against the bumping post at the far end of the SFS's track by the depot. It's obviously a semi-permanent fixture, having a deck attached and being well wired. The only markings were PPCX 700100 and the name Hamilton. I have no idea who owns the car, but it looks like it's essentially a private residence, so my guess is that it's somebody quite connected with the SFS. (Photos #17,18)
The trip back to Santa Fe was relatively uneventful. While we were all in Lamy, a storm had rolled in, both fouling up the light and causing brief torrents of sleet balls to fall from the sky. Also, my stomach and gas tank were both running a little low, so after catching up with the mixed at the US 285 crossing, I highballed straight back to Santa Fe. After filling the tank and finding something to eat, I heard 93's horns go off for the crossing just beyond the freeway. So, I drove up along the tracks (Galisteo Street) until I found a nice trestle and curve, and proceeded to wait. (Photo #24) From there, it was only a couple of miles into the yard, and I caught it one more time on the way in (Photo #25). I photographed a few more things in the yard, like the two Rio Grande cabooses and the ATSF's dome/lounge car Plaza Lamy, and after I'd been hit with all the sleet I could take, got back in my car and headed for Los Cruces. One of these days I'll make it back and actually ride the train, but regardless, the SFS is a fun, often forgotten, little shortline to chase around.
Four months later, I returned to Santa Fe on vacation with my wife. The area around the depot is undergoing redevelopment as part of the Santa Fe Railyard project. While digging, they discovered the remains of an old two stall Santa Fe enginehouse, then the first depot (1880-1909) that was then used as a freight house, and apparently a few other things as well. The Museum of New Mexico was called in to do a full dig on the site and document it before parts of it were obliterated by the construction. Specifically, the enginehouse foundation will be destroyed as an underground parking garage is built. So, while I'm going to try to get a copy of the official report once all is said and done, I took a few of my own photos from behind the orange plastic fence to try to document what was there. Photos #32-37 are of the old enginehouse, where light repairs were done on power running on the branch. Photos #38-43 are of something else they were digging up. My guess is that this is the remains of the first ATSF depot, which was used as such between 1880 and 1909. After that, it became a freighthouse before it was demolished completely. Enjoy these - most likely, by the time I write this, some of this will already be gone.
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This work is copyright 2005 by Nathan D. Holmes
(firstname.lastname@example.org), but licensed under a
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I encourage others to consider CC or other Open Content-style licensing of their original works.
All photographs in this trip report were taken with a Canon EOS 10D using either a Canon 28-105mm USM or a Canon 75-300mm f4-5.3 IS/USM.