Ever the innovator, Santa Fe was one of the pioneers in intermodal freight service, an enterprise that (at one time or another) included a tugboat fleet and an airline, the short-lived Santa Fe Skyway. A bus line allowed the company to extend passenger transportation service to areas not accessible by rail, and ferry boats on the San Francisco Bay allowed travellers to complete their westward journeys all the way to the Pacific Ocean. The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway officially ceased operations on December 31, 1996 when it merged with the Burlington Northern Railroad to form the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway.
Startup and initial growth
The railroad's charter, written single-handedly by Cyrus K. Holliday in January 1859, was approved by the state's governor on February 11 of that year as the Atchison and Topeka Railroad Company for the purpose of building a rail line from Topeka, Kansas, to Santa Fe, New Mexico, and then on to the Gulf of Mexico. On May 3, 1863, two years after Kansas gained statehood, the railroad changed names to more closely match the aspirations of its founder to the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad. The railroad broke ground in Topeka on October 30, 1868 and started building westward where one of the first construction tasks was to cross the Kaw River. The first section of track opened on April 26, 1869 (less than a month prior to completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad) with special trains between Topeka and Pauline. The distance was only 6 miles (10 km), but the Wakarusa Creek Picnic Special train took passengers over the route for celebration in Pauline.
Crews continued working westward, reaching Dodge City on September 5, 1872. With this connection, the Santa Fe was able to compete for cattle transportation with the Kansas Pacific Railway. Construction continued, and the Santa Fe opened the last section of track between Topeka and the Colorado/Kansas border on December 23, 1873. The Santa Fe's tracks reached Pueblo, Colorado on March 1, 1876. Serving Pueblo opened a number of new freight opportunities for the railroad as it now could haul coal from Colorado eastward.
Building across Kansas and eastern Colorado may have been technologically simple as there weren't many large natural obstacles in the way (certainly not as many as the railroad was about to encounter further west), but the Santa Fe found it almost economically impossible because of the sparse population in the area. To combat this problem, the Santa Fe set up real estate offices in the area and vigorously promoted settlement across Kansas on the land that was granted to the railroad by Congress in 1863. The Santa Fe offered discounted passenger fares to anyone who travelled west on the railroad to inspect the land; if the land was subsequently purchased by the traveller, the railroad applied the passenger's ticket price toward the sale of the land. Now that the railroad had built across the plains and had a customer base providing income for the firm, it was time to turn its attention toward the difficult terrain of the Rocky Mountains.
Crossing the Rockies
Leadville was the most productive of all of the Colorado mining regions. Mining in the area began in 1859, first for gold and then two decades later for silver. Several of the Santa Fe's board of directors (along with President Strong) sought to capitalize on the need to supply the mining towns of Colorado and northern New Mexico with food, equipment, and other supplies. To that end, Santa Fe sought to extend its route westward from Pueblo along the Arkansas River, and through the Royal Gorge in 1877. Royal Gorge was a bottleneck along the Arkansas too narrow for both the Santa Fe and the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad to pass through, and there was no other reasonable access to the South Park area; thus, a race ensued to build rail access through the Gorge. Physical confrontations led to two years of armed conflict, essentially low-level guerrilla warfare between the two companies that came to be known as the Royal Gorge Railroad War. Federal intervention prompted an out-of-court settlement on February 2, 1880 in the form of the so-called "Treaty of Boston" wherein the D&RG was allowed to complete its line and lease it for use by the Santa Fe. The D&RG paid an estimated $1.4 million to Santa Fe for its work within the Gorge and agreed not to extend its line to Santa Fe, while the AT&SF agreed to forgo its planned routes to Denver and Leadville.
Also looking to the south, an initial outlay of $20,000 was authorized on February 26, 1878 for the construction of a rail line south from Trinidad in order to "..seize and hold Raton Pass." The location of the route was nearly as crucial to the venture's success as was the actual track construction. W. R. "Ray" Morley, a former civil engineer for the (D&RG) hired by the AT&SF in 1877, was given his first assignment to secretly plot a route through the pass (it was feared that any activity in the area would lead the D&RG to construct a narrow gauge line over the Pass). Additionally, Strong learned that the Southern Pacific Railroad (SP) had introduced legislation to block the Santa Fe's entry into New Mexico. Undaunted, Strong obtained a charter for the New Mexico and Southern Pacific Railroad Company and immediately sent A. A. Robinson to Raton Pass. From February to December of 1878 work crews struggled to build the line between La Junta and Raton, and the first Santa Fe train entered New Mexico on December 7.
Facing the competition
While construction over the Rockies was slow and difficult due to the logistics involved, in some instances armed conflicts with competitors arose (such as with the D&RG in Colorado and New Mexico, and — after capturing the Raton Pass — the SP in Arizona and California, as exemplified in the "frog war" between SP and Santa Fe subsidiary the California Southern Railroad at Colton, California in September of 1883). The troubles for the railroad went far beyond skirmishes with rival railroads, however. In the late 1880s, George C. Magoun, who had worked his way to become Chairman of the Board of Directors for the railroad, was progressively losing his own health. In 1889 the railroad's stock price, which was closely linked in the public's eye with the successes of the railroad's chairman, fell from nearly $140 per share to around $20 per share. Magoun's health continued to deteriorate along with the stock price and Magoun died on December 20, 1893. The Santa Fe entered receivership three days later on December 23, 1893, with J. W. Reinhart, John J. McCook and Joseph C. Wilson appointed as receivers.
Expansion through mergers
Predecessors, subsidiary railroads, and leased lines
California, Arizona and Santa Fe Railway (1911-1963) — a non-operating subsidiary of the ATSF
Santa Fe, Prescott and Phoenix Railway (1892-1911)
Arizona and California Railway (1903-1905)
Bradshaw Mountain Railroad (1902-1912) — a non-operating subsidiary
Prescott and Eastern Railroad (1897-1911)
Phoenix and Eastern Railroad (1895-1908)
California Southern Railroad (1880-1906) — a subsidiary railroad chartered to build a rail connection between what has become the city of Barstow and San Diego, California
Grand Canyon Railway (1901-1942) — became an operating subsidiary of the ATSF in 1902 and a non-operating subsidiary in 1924
Santa Fe and Grand Canyon Railroad (1897-1901)
Minkler Southern Railway Company (1913-1992?) — a subsidiary created to build the Porterville-Orosi District (Minkler to Ducor, California)
New Mexico and Arizona Railroad (1882-1897) — ATSF subsidiary; (1897-1934) non-operating SP subsidiary
New Mexico and Southern Pacific Railroad Company (1878-?) — a subsidiary created to lay track across the Raton Pass into New Mexico
Santa Fe Pacific Railroad (1897-1902)
Atlantic and Pacific Railroad (1880-1897)
Sonora Railway — became an operating subsidiary of the ATSF in 1879
Verde Valley Railway (1913-1942) — an ATSF "paper railroad" at Clarkdale, Arizona
Western Arizona Railway (1906-1931) — an ATSF subsidiary (Kingman – Chloride)
Arizona and Utah Railway (1899-1933)
The failed SPSF merger
The Southern Pacific Santa Fe Railroad (SPSF) was a proposed merger between the parent companies of the Southern Pacific and Santa Fe railroads announced on December 23, 1983. As a part of the joining of the two firms, all of the rail and non-rail assets owned by Santa Fe Industries and the Southern Pacific Transportation Company was placed under the control of a holding company, the Santa Fe–Southern Pacific Corporation. The merger was subsequently denied by the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) on the basis that it would create too many duplicate routes.
The companies were so confident that the merger would be approved they began repainting locomotives and non-revenue rolling stock in a new unified paint scheme. After the ICC's denial, railfans joked that SPSF really stood for "Shouldn't Paint So Fast". While the Southern Pacific was sold off, all of the California real estate holdings were consolidated in a new company, Catellus Development Corporation, making it the State's largest private land owner. Some time later, Catellus would purchase the Union Pacific Railroad's interest in the Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal (LAUPT).
Merger into BNSF
On December 31, 1996 the ATSF merged with the Burlington Northern Railroad to form the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway. Some of the challenges resulting from the joining of the two companies included the establishment of a common dispatching system, the unionization of Santa Fe's non-union dispatchers, and incorporating the Santa Fe's train identification codes throughout.
Presidents of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway:
Cyrus K. Holliday: 1860–1863
Samuel C. Pomeroy: 1863–1868
William F. Nast: September 1868
Henry C. Lord: 1868–1869
Henry Keyes: 1869–1870
Ginery Twichell: 1870–1873
Henry Strong: 1873–1874
Thomas Nickerson: 1874–1880
T. Jefferson Coolidge: 1880–1881
William Barstow Strong: 1881–1889
Allen Manvel: 1889–1893
Joseph Reinhart: 1893–1894
Aldace F. Walker: 1894–1895
Edward Payson Ripley: 1896–1920
William Benson Storey: 1920–1933
Samuel T. Bledsoe: 1933–1939
Edward J. Engel: 1939–1944
Fred G. Gurley: 1944–1958
Ernest S. Marsh: 1958–1967
John Shedd Reed: 1967–1986
W. John Swartz: 1986–1988
Mike Haverty: 1989–1991
Robert Krebs: 1991–1995
Passenger train service
The Santa Fe was widely known for its passenger train service in the first half of the 20th century. The Santa Fe introduced many innovations in passenger rail travel, among these the "Pleasure Domes" of the Super Chief (billed as the "...only dome car[s] between Chicago and Los Angeles" when they were introduced in 1951) and the "Big Dome"-Lounge cars and double-decker "Hi-Level" cars of the El Capitan, which entered revenue service in 1954. The Santa Fe was among the first railroads to add dining cars to its passenger train consists in 1891, following the examples of the Northern Pacific and Union Pacific Railroads. Dining along the Santa Fe was often a memorable experience, whether it be on-board in a dining car, or at one of the many Harvey House restaurants that were strategically located throughout the system.
In general, the same train name was used for both directions of a particular train. The exceptions to this rule included the Chicagoan and Kansas Cityan trains (both names referred to the same service, but the Chicagoan was the eastbound version, while the Kansas Cityan was the westbound version), and the Eastern Express and West Texas Express. All of the Santa Fe's trains that terminated in Chicago did so at Dearborn Station. Trains terminating in Los Angeles arrived at Santa Fe's La Grande Station until May, 1939 when the Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal (LAUPT) was opened.
To reach smaller communities, the railroad often operated Rail Diesel Cars (RDCs) for communities on the railroad, and bus connections were provided throughout the system via Santa Fe Trailways buses to other locations. These smaller trains generally were not named, only the train numbers were used to differentiate services.
The ubiquitous passenger service inspired the title of the 1946 Academy-Award-winning Johnny Mercer tune "On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe."
One-time and special trains
Occasionally, a special train was chartered to make a high-profile run over the Santa Fe's track. These specials were not included in the railroad's regular revenue service lineup, but were intended as one-time (and usually one-way) traversals of the railroad. Some of the more notable specials include:
Cheney Special: Colton, California — Chicago, Illinois (a one-time train that ran in 1895 on behalf of B.P. Cheney, a director of the Santa Fe).
Clark Special: Winslow, Arizona — Chicago, Illinois (a one-time train that ran in 1904 on behalf of Charles W. Clarke, the son of then Arizona senator William Andrew Clark).
A promotional brochure for the Santa Fe Railway's Scott Special passenger train.David B. Jones Special: Lake Forest, Illinois — Los Angeles, California (a one-time, record-breaking train that ran in 1923 on behalf of the president of the Mineral Point Zinc Company).
Huntington Special: Argentine, Kansas — Chicago, Illinois (a one-time train that ran in 1899 on behalf of Collis P. Huntington).
H.P. Lowe Special: Chicago, Illinois — Los Angeles, California (a one-time, record-breaking train that ran in 1903 on behalf of the president of the Engineering Company of America).
Miss Nelly Bly Special: San Francisco, California — Chicago, Illinois (a one-time, record-breaking train that ran in 1890 on behalf of Nellie Bly, a reporter for the New York World newspaper).
Peacock Special: Los Angeles, California — Chicago, Illinois (a one-time train that ran in 1900 on behalf of A.R. Peacock, vice-president of the Carnegie Steel and Iron Company).
Scott Special: Los Angeles, California — Chicago, Illinois (the most well-known of Santa Fe's "specials," also known as the Coyote Special, the Death Valley Coyote, and the Death Valley Scotty Special; a one-time, record-breaking train that ran in 1905, essentially as a publicity stunt).
Wakarusa Creek Picnic Special: Topeka, Kansas — Pauline, Kansas (a one-time train that took picnickers on a 30-minute trip, at a speed of 14 miles-per-hour, to celebrate the official opening of the line on April 26, 1869).