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Railroads in New Mexico   Tags: libguides  

History, effect, and current status of railroads, railways, and trains in New Mexico
Last Updated: Jul 19, 2014 URL: Print Guide Email Alerts

Railroads in New Mexico - History Print Page

Railroads historically operating in New Mexico

Railroad companies grew, divided, merged, changed names, shrank, and disappeared depending upon need, competition, success, jurisdiction challenges and legal regulations. Some companies, especially the narrow gauge lines, arose to service a particular industry and disappeared when the lumber or mineral resource was exhausted. Here is a list of companies which have operated in or through New Mexico over the years.

Note: many company names started out as "Railroad" but later changed to "Railway", and some similar company names reflect reorganizations. More than a few companies were created but never actually operated, usually becoming absorbed into a new company.

  • Alamogordo and Sacramento Mountain Railway (nicknamed the "Cloud-Climbing Railroad")
  • Albuquerque Eastern Railway
  • Amtrak
  • Arizona & Colorado Railroad
  • Arizona Eastern Railroad
  • Arizona & New Mexico Railway
  • Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad, later "Railway" (AT&SF, "The Santa Fe Railway")
  • Atlantic & Pacific Railroad
  • Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Railroad
  • Burro Mountain Railroad
  • Cerrillos Coal Railroad
  • Chicago, Rock Island & Choctaw Railway
  • Chicago, Rock Island & El Paso Railway: The Golden State Route
  • Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railway
  • Cimarron & Northwestern Railway
  • Clifton & Lordsburg Railway
  • Colorado & Southern Railway
  • Cuba Extension Railroad
  • Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad
  • Dawson Railway
  • Denver & Rio Grande Railroad (nicknamed "The Chile Line")
  • Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad
  • Denver, Texas & Fort Worth Railroad
  • Denver, Texas & Gulf Railroad
  • Eastern Railway of New Mexico
  • El Paso & Northeastern Railroad (nicknamed the "White Oaks Railroad")
  • El Paso & Rock Island Railway Company
  • El Paso & Southwestern Railroad
  • Elkhart & Santa Fe Railway
  • Fort Worth & Denver City Railway
  • Hanover Railroad
  • Lordsburg & Hachita Railroad
  • Missouri Pacific Railroad
  • New Mexican Railroad
  • New Mexico Central Railroad
  • New Mexico Gateway Railroad
  • New Mexico Midland Railway
  • New Mexico Railroad Company
  • New Mexico & Southern Pacific Railroad (later "Railway")
  • Pecos Northern Railroad
  • Pecos Valley Railroad
  • Pecos Valley & Northeastern Railway
  • Rail Runner Express
  • Rio Grande, Mexico & Pacific Railroad
  • Rio Grande & Pagosa Springs Railroad
  • Rio Grande & Santa Fe Railroad
  • Rio Grande & Southwestern Railroad
  • Rocky Mountain & Santa Fe Railway
  • Santa Fe, Albuquerque & Pacific Railroad
  • Santa Fe Central Railway
  • Santa Fe Northern Railroad
  • Santa Fe Northwestern Railway
  • Santa Fe Pacific Railroad
  • Santa Fe Railway (popular name for the AT&SF)
  • Santa Fe, Raton & Des Moines Railroad
  • Santa Fe, San Juan & Northern Railroad
  • Santa Fe Southern Railroad
  • Santa Rita Railroad
  • Silver City, Deming & Pacific Railroad
  • Silver City & Northern Railroad
  • Silver City, Pinos Altos & Mogollon Railroad
  • Southern Pacific Railroad Company of New Mexico
  • Southern Pacific Transportation Company
  • Southwestern Railroad of New Mexico
  • St. Louis, Rocky Mountain & Pacific Railway
  • St. Louis Southwestern Railway
  • Texas - New Mexico Railway
  • Texas, Santa Fe & Northern Railroad
  • Tierra Amarilla Southern Railroad
  • Tucumcari & Memphis Railroad
  • Union Pacific, Denver & Gulf Railway
  • United States Potash Railroad
  • White Oaks Railroad (popular name for the El Paso & Northeastern)






State Historian resources


Railroads in New Mexico

The development of the American Southwest

was often parallel to the spread of the


Railroads have an important place in New Mexico's history. When the railroad arrived from the north it immediately took up rapid transport of  goods and passengers such as had previously come in along the Santa Fe Trail, fueling a new prosperity and growth in the Territory. A wider variety of people more readily moved into the area, including homesteaders.

The railroads became vital not just along the East-West and North-South corridors, but also because of the many branches and lines which led to lumber, livestock, mineral, and cultural resources. Some of these lines, and whole railway companies, are long gone now, the only traces being some route cuts and embankments and the occasional rusty spike. Towns boomed when a railway came through, and dwindled when the tracks were taken up. 

Improved access to Eastern goods had an effect upon not only daily lifestyles but also New Mexican architecture; the ready availability of fired bricks and roofing tin sparked a wave of "Eastern-style" construction in contrast to the utilitarian structures allowed by local materials. (Ironically, most of these buildings, in what would now be termed the Victorian style, where still standing have been remodeled into the Pueblo Revival or Territorial style.)

Railroads were also important in developing tourism in New Mexico, with beautiful advertisements offering the accommodations of Fred Harvey's Houses and the grandeur of the scenery accessible via the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway (which, curiously enough, did not directly service Santa Fe, only coming as close as Lamy.) These advertisements had a profound influence on popular perceptions of the American West, worldwide.

The location of the AT&SF main yards in Albuquerque was a major reason for the city's growth -- at one point between a third and a half of Albuquerque's working men were employed with the Yards. (A growth that might have been Bernalillo's, originally slated as the site but passed up after a disagreement about the availability of land there.) The railway also made it easy for thousands of tuberculosis patients to travel to New Mexico in search of a more salutary climate, another reason for a surge in Albuquerque's population and growth across the state as some of the "lungers" became residents.

Many a smaller town in New Mexico owes its very existence to the railroad and is laid out along the railroad tracks, and if you travel along those tracks (often two streets away from that town's Main Street) you might find a Harvey House still standing though most often vacant, a fading reminder of another time when rail travel was not only essential but sometimes even elegant.


Notable Dates in New Mexico's Railroad History

November 1, 1878

  • Building southward from Colorado the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway reaches New Mexico via the Raton Pass, beating out their rival company the Denver and Rio Grande.

December 7, 1878

  • First locomotive steams into New Mexico.

February 13, 1879

  • First passenger train into New Mexico.  Brought members of the legislature of the State of Colorado to Otero in Colfax County, via the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway.

February 9, 1880

  • Completion of the spur line between Santa Fe and the Lamy Station of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway System.

April 8, 1880

  • Celebration in Albuquerque noting the commencement of construction of the Western Division of the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad, driving westward from Isleta.

April 10, 1880

  • Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe rails reach Albuquerque. Official arrival celebration held April 22, 1880.

March 8, 1881

  • East-West continental connection established through New Mexico at Deming -- the second transcontinental railway in North America.

June 11, 1881

  • AT&SF lines reach El Paso.

January 8, 1887

  • Northward spur from Santa Fe, the narrow gauge "Chile Line", links up with the Denver & Rio Grande.

Railroads in New Mexico - History

"The advent of the railroads in New Mexico was the beginning of an era of permanent prosperity for the people of the territory. The wonderful rapidity with which the great trans-continental transportation lines were constructed was not less marvelous than the astonishing awakening of the people to the fact that at last New Mexico was really in touch with the enlightened progress and modern methods of the people of the eastern states."          - Leading Facts of New Mexico History, Vol. II, pg. 480


 Clark Railroads and Railroad Towns New Mexico cover

Railroads and Railroad Towns in New Mexico - Ree Sheck (Editor), compiled and revised by William Clark
Publication Date: 1989-08-01

Compiled from articles previously published in New Mexico magazine from 1964-1980.

These articles provide the color and the character of the effect of the railroads upon New Mexico, and discusses the colorful characters associated with out Territorial past. With period and recent photos of facilities and equipment.

The Coming of the Railroad - Howard Bryan
Fred and His Girls - Dale Bullock
When the Railroad Came - Las Vegas - Elmo Baca
The Second Albuquerque - Howard Bryan
Raton and the Northeastern Plains - Ruth Armstrong
The Last Frontier - Ruth Armstrong
Six Shooter Siding - Ruth Armstrong
Riley's Switch - Ruth Armstrong
Reminiscences of the New Mexico Central - Vernon Glover
The Cloud-Climbing Route - Marjorie White
One Yard Wide, More Than 100 Years Long - Doyle Kline
Memories - Three Feet Wide - Roy W. Albee
Short Trip on a Long Train - Margaret Erhart
Almost All the Way with Santa Fe - Richard Bradford
Highballing West on No. 5078 - Ray Nelson

Cover Art
New Mexico's Railroads - David F. Myrick
Publication Date: 1990-07-01

Long the handbook on the subject!

This is a railroad lover's book. The steel, steam, and dreams of a century of railroading in New Mexico are captured in 200 photographs and a crisp text. From a bygone era of narrow-gauge lines to today's Amtrak service, this book covers both the short lines and the branches feeding to main lines of major railroad systems.

New Mexico, isolated until 1878 when the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad laid the first span of track in the territory, in just thirty months had over 1,000 miles of rail line. Soon trains of freight and passenger cars, marvel of the industrial age, crisscrossed the territory delivering eastern fashion, settlers, and tourists and hauling away lumber, coal, silver, and cattle.

The great railroad-building era in New Mexico ended with World War I, when eleven common carriers operated 3,000 miles of track. The subsequent history of New Mexico railroads is one of persistent struggle, slow eclipse, and corporate consolidation. But as this volume reminds us, steel rails, roaring engines, and clattering cars will always be a part of New Mexico's heritage. - from the book jacket

Cover Art
The Train Stops Here: New Mexico's Railway Legacy - Marci L. Riskin

In the vast expanse of territorial New Mexico, railroads had a striking impact. Many cities, among them Carlsbad, Raton, Clovis, and Gallup, were founded as railroad stops. Architect Marci Riskin explores the history of railroad depots and other structures--everything but the trains themselves--that make up New Mexico's railway legacy.

To begin the examination, Riskin includes a brief history of railroad development in New Mexico, a description of the architectural features of the state's railroad buildings, and an overview of how railroads work. This background will help answer questions that may arise on a visit to a rail-yard: What is that strangely shaped train car carrying? How is that twisted piece of metal used? Why are the bricks on the platform stamped with the single word Coffeyville?

The bulk of the book is an account of what is left of the state's railroad heritage, organized geographically within each rail system: the Santa Fe system from Raton to Silver City, the Denver & Rio Grande, the Colorado & Southern, the Southern Pacific, and the El Paso and Northeastern, among others. - from the book jacket

The author also did a 1996 study of railroad depots in New Mexico, commissioned by the New Mexico Dept. of Highway and Transportation.

Cover Art
All Aboard for Santa Fe - Victoria E. Dye
Publication Date: 2005-10-15

By the late 1800s, the major mode of transportation for travelers to the Southwest was by rail. In 1878, the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway Company (AT&SF) became the first railroad to enter New Mexico, and by the late 1890s it controlled more than half of the track-miles in the Territory. The company wielded tremendous power in New Mexico, and soon made tourism an important facet of its financial enterprise.

All Aboard for Santa Fe focuses on the AT&SF's marketing efforts to highlight Santa Fe as an ideal tourism destination. The company marketed the healthful benefits of the area's dry desert air, a strong selling point for eastern city-dwelling tuberculosis sufferers. AT&SF also joined forces with the Fred Harvey Company, owner of numerous hotels and restaurants along the rail line, to promote Santa Fe. Together, they developed materials emphasizing Santa Fe's Indian and Hispanic cultures, promoting artists from the area's art colonies, and created the Indian Detours sightseeing tours.

All Aboard for Santa Fe is a comprehensive study of AT&SF's early involvement in the establishment of western tourism and the mystique of Santa Fe. - from the book jacket

History of Santa Fe and the Santa Fe railway system -- How the AT&SF marketed Santa Fe into the early 1920s -- The promotion of Santa Fe by the Harvey Company and the AT&SF into the 1930s -- Promoting Santa Fe the AT&SF way, then and now -- The town down the tracks : Santa Fe's rival, Albuquerque -- The AT&SF's lingering effects on tourism in modern day Santa Fe.

Cover Art
Early Railroad Days in New Mexico - Henry Allen Tice

Tice, as a young man, helped survey the route of one of the first railroads through New Mexico and went on to work for the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway system for more than fifty years. Over the years, he served as telegraph operator, stationmaster, and superintendent for the system.

These reminiscences, originally serialized in the Santa Fe magazine in 1932, give the flavor of New Mexico in the 1880s just as the railroads were opening up the territory, and reveal the challenges inherent in building the rail lines.

A small, personable book, well worth a read.

"While in Santa Fe we lived in the old adobe La Fonda tavern, 'The End of the Trail.' One evening as I sat in the old Plaza, where the first caravans had reached their journey's end almost sixty years before, I looked across at the old hotel and wondered what volume of tales it walls could tell if they had the power of speech. I also thought how different they would be from the 'Tales of a Wayside Inn' as recounted to us in rhyme by Longfellow. ... No poetry in old La Fonda, but trafficking, gambling, liquor and blood both flowing freely, riotous days and violent nights." - pg. 9

Cover Art
The History of the Western Railroads - Jane Eliot

Dozens of photos, black & white and color, augment the informative text.

The railroads were a crucial element in the development of the Wild West, as they snaked their way across vast prairies, deserts and cavernous canyons, over rushing rivers and the formidable Rocky and Sierra Nevada Mountains, and through virgin forests. Once chilled steel rails spanned the continent, the transportation of resources, goods, mail and settlers -- drawn by the lure of lands, gold, and adventure -- began changing the face of the West. The disappearance of the magnificent herds of buffalo went hand in hand with the fate of the native Indian. The transportation of cattle, including the hardy Texas Longhorn, to rich eastern markets contributed to the rise of the cowboy. But corruption accompanied the power of the railroad monopolies, portending gloom before the rails had even reached their heyday.

The Golden Age of railroading in the beginning of the twentieth century was a time of gleaming steam locomotives chuffing up mountain grades, observation cars with open platforms ferrying politicians on whistle-stop campaigns, dome cars with picture windows gliding through spectacular scenic vistas, and luxurious Pullman cars with mahogany woodwork, chandeliers, and sumptuous meals served on silver by candlelight.

From Santa Fe's Super Chief, the first diesel-powered, all Pullman streamliner, to Great Northern's Empire Builder, with exposed beams and seats covered in pinto leather, to Union Pacific's freight-carrying Big Boys, the trains of the West have been the stuff of dreams. Even after their decline, with the rise of the highway and the passenger jet, western railroads continue today to grow and change. Experimenting, merging, using innovative technology and computerized systems, these railroads survive and prosper as a testament to the spirit of the West. - from the book jacket

Cover Art
Classic Railroad Advertising : Riding the Rails Again - Tad Burness

Train travel comes to life in ads featuring scenic panoramas and locomotives pulling long strings of streamlined cars. Features 224 full-color pages, as well as historical notes on America's most famous passenger trains railroads.

Cover Art
Dream Tracks : the railroad and the American Indian 1890-1930 - by T.C. McLuhan ; with photographs from the William E. Kopplin collection

At the turn of the century, the Santa Fe Railway set out on a massive campaign to lure travelers into its southwestern territory, that remarkable desert landscape (including the Grand Canyon) then populated by little else than cactus, lizards, and a few scattered Indian tribes. But the railroad commissioned painters and photographers to present this remote region in a picturesque fashion, capitalizing on the dramatic scenery and idealizing the Indian.

To accommodate travelers, the railroad set up deluxe guided tours and went into business with the Fred Harvey Company. Soon hordes of pretty, crisply dressed "Harvey Girls" were serving thousands of new and enthusiastic tourists. Exploiting a romantic image of the Indian, the railroad's advertising used paintings and hand-colored lantern slides in calendars, brochures, magazines, posters, and lectures that summoned Americans to their rich heritage and the beautiful lands of the West.

Now, some 75 years later, the visual record of these early sales promotions forms an extraordinary document of Indian life and the spectacular Arizona/New Mexico desert along with views of California. More than 110 hand-colored photographs are reproduced in this stunning book, along with a gallery of advertising art and original paintings in full color, two maps, and a selection of archival black-and-white photographs.

Jemez Mountains railroads : Santa Fe National Forest, New Mexico - Vernon J. Glover
Publication Date: 1990

The Jemez Mountains saw the development of several railroads, primarily to support logging but also for a projected boom that never occurred. The Gilman Tunnels were cut for the railroad, and at one time a large trestle bridge led up to them. This railroad supplied lumber for the mill at Bernalillo, which once employed hundreds of people and had a subsidiary plant that produced washboards and scrub brushes manufactured from Jemez Mountains ponderosa pine. This book is an overview of these long-gone railroads and the towns that once existed along them.


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