Railroads in New Mexico

History, effect, and current status of railroads, railways, and trains in New Mexico

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.


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