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1747AT&SF: Newton - Albuquerque

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  • evan_stair
    Apr 23, 2014
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      Route of the Super Chief...

      Hopefully I am not stretching my understanding of the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe's (AT&SF) passenger main between Newton and Albuquerque.  I know some of the older hands will correct me if I am.

      In my travels on the Southwest Chief since the late 1990's, I have noticed more than just semaphores, Harvey Houses, and other passenger related scenery from the era of the California Limited to the Super Chief.  It is interesting to see how the Santa Fe might have made short right-of-way adjustments to the passenger mainline between Newton and Albuquerque over the decades.  I do not remember seeing such adjustments between Chicago and Newton, or between Albuquerque and Los Angeles.  I would assume many of these small projects were designed to bring the Super Chief's transit time between Chicago-Los Angeles below 40 hours on the steep grades leading to-and-from Raton Pass.  Speed benefits would have also been provided to other Santa Fe trains such as the Chief, the Grand Canyon, and who could forget the El Capitan.  

      The sights seem to appear as an Egyptian archaeological dig.  One can see abandoned right-of-way along the route where the Santa Fe might have cut a few seconds here-and-there to improve speed.  Substantial stone bridges can be seen, interrupting the grassy-grade diverting from the existing track.  Redundant telegraph pole lines betray some of this right-of-way.  Many jointed rail segments must have been in the process of being welded when the Santa Fe "gave up" on speed increases with the coming of aviation and the Interstate highway system.  It seems many curves included welded rail and once back on the straight-of-way the jointed rail began again.

      Regardless of what happens to the Southwest Chief, the existing rail infrastructure will change.  I just hope the change will not be abandonment, in segments to capture customers, a modern practice of railroads such as the BNSF Railway and subsequent spinoffs to shortlines mascaraing as scrappers.  The route still has a bright future if those bean counters, who consider only 5 year business plans, can be convinced to look beyond the Southwest Chief as a drain on corporate fiscal resources.  This seems to even be a problem even with those in the region who advocate for retention of the Southwest Chief.  They refuse to consider even the thought of introducing other passenger services on the route.  I see the infrastructure as capable of so much more.

      National transportation pathways evolve slowly.  The real benefit of Raton Pass is in future connections between Denver and Albuquerque along the Front Range.  Yes, the Southwest Chief is important, but let's not lose sight of why.  The Southwest Chief should be playing second fiddle to priceless basic national infrastructure.  

      For those who are anticipating a reroute, a San Francisco Chief should be restored between Chicago and California regardless of what happens to the Southwest Chief.  This is if for nothing else to provide an additional level of convenience.  Additional frequencies between Chicago - Kansas City and California are needed.  Added benefits of picking up Wichita and Amarillo would only benefit Amtrak's ridership.  A restored San Francisco Chief would also produce a more reasonable arrival/ departure for Kansas City than what exists today.  

      Still, the naysayers at Amtrak, within the federal government, bean counters at the BNSF, and even the states of Kansas, Colorado, and New Mexico remain silent with regard to the importance of this infrastructure.  Here in Oklahoma we have already heard from the BNSF that in 1998 they should not have sold a segment of railroad between Sapulpa (a suburb of Tulsa) and Oklahoma City.  So are we to trust that the right decision will be made here?  The BNSF in 1998 would have abandoned this now strategic rail line.  This my friends is a place where national rail transportation easements should be designated.  Long live Raton Pass.

      Evan Stair
      Passenger Rail Oklahoma