Railroad adventures in the Southwest include a ride on the New Mexico Railrunner, here awaiting departure from Santa Fe Station headed to Albuquerque.
Railroad adventures in the Southwest include both tracking abandoned lines from the past and taking a ride today on the railroads that still exist. Railroads opened the western frontier. From the transcontinental lines crisscrossing the nation from east to west, to regional lines, and local spurs, railroads crossed hostile, unsettled lands, and brought in settlers, equipment and building materials. They hauled out mineral riches of gold and silver, coal, timber, and agricultural products. The major railroad companies raced to be first to complete a line across the nation, with the Union Pacific Railroad winning the race. Others followed. The Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway sought a cross country route through the Southwest to California. The Denver and Rio Grande Railroad desired a north-south line from Denver to Mexico City. These two railroads fought for the right-of-way when they both desired the same strip of land.
Raton Pass on the southern Colorado/New Mexico border was a key
passageway through the Rocky Mountains desired by both the Atchison, Topeka,
and Santa Fe Railway and the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad. Surveyors for the
AT & SF arrived at Raton Pass on the morning of February 29, 1878, and
began staking and grading work. Half an hour later, the D & RG surveyors
and crew arrived at the site. The competing crews faced each other and prepared
for a fight. John A. McMurtrie, the chief engineer for the D & RG , decided
to pull his men out and search for another route, an effort that proved
unsuccessful. Losing the battle for Raton Pass meant that the D & RG became
desperate to gain the alternate route through Colorado's Royal Gorge along the
The Royal Gorge route would provide access to the Leadville area's fabulously rich gold and silver mines. It could also further the D & RG's goal of eventually reaching Mexico City by traveling south through Colorado's San Luis Valley to the Rio Grande which could then be followed to El Paso. Having lost Raton Pass, it was essential that the D & RG secure the Royal Gorge route. The problem was that the Royal Gorge was so narrow, that it could accommodate only one set of tracks. There was no room for both the D & RG and the AT & SF. The competing railroad crews faced off in the narrow canyon. Hostilities ensued with shots fired and equipment stolen. Cooler heads prevailed, and the matter was eventually settled in the courts, with the D & RG winning the Royal Gorge route.
This is just
one example of the fierce determination of the competing railroads to win their
desired routes west. Another example was in the north, where the Great Northern
Railway and the Northern Pacific Railroad faced off in a battle to be the first
to reach Seattle. The Northern Pacific won, but the Great Northern eventually
ended up with a shorter route to Seattle.
The Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad heads west towards Cumbres Pass as it crosses the Colorado/New Mexico state border several times.
In the Southwest, the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad branched out across southern Colorado, crossing the San Juan Mountains at Cumbres Pass and reaching Durango and the rich mines at Silverton. The Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway crossed central New Mexico and Arizona, reaching the highly profitable California trade. While the D & RG is long gone, two extremely scenic tourist trains remain on the old narrow gauge lines- the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad https://cumbrestoltec.com/ , and the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge https://www.durangotrain.com/ . The AT & SF lines still exist, with highly profitable freight trains making the run to California, as well as Amtrak's Southwest Chief carrying passengers through the scenic canyons, mountains, and deserts of the Southwest. We'll take a look at the best train rides from the past, as well as the best rails to ride today. Come explore with us!
Railroads From The Past