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Picture Gallery of Trains on the Southern Pacific Railroad Sunset Route

Picture of trains and signals on Southern Pacific Railroad Sunset Route

Construction on Southern Pacific's Sunset Route began from Los Angeles in 1873 and reached Colton in 1875. It reached Yuma, AZ in September 1877, Casa Grande in May 1879, Tucson in March 1880, and El Paso in May 1881. The Galveston, Harrisburg, & San Antonio building west from Houston reached San Antonio in 1877, then met the SP east of Sanderson near the Pecos River bridge on January 12, 1883. There were train order stations at Yuma, Wellton, Mohawk, Sentinel, Gila Bend, Estrella, Maricopa, Casa Grande, Picacho, Red Rock, Tucson, Mescal, Benson, Dragoon, Cochise, Willcox, Bowie, San Simon, Lordsburg, Separ, Deming, Cambray, Afton, Strauss, Anapra, and El Paso. The earliest record I can find for the installation of automatic block signals was when the SP added signals between Gila and Estrella in 1909. In 1926, it added 36 US&S type B semaphore signals from Dome, AZ to Wellton on 18 miles of double track. Also that year, the SP ordered 176 one arm and 89 two arm US&S semaphore signals. During 1927, it added 217 signals on 124 miles of track of the 166 miles between Wellton and Picacho. The rest of the 1926 signal order was used in California. In 1928, it added 97 signals between Picacho and Stockham (Tucson) 40 miles and 8 signals Vail to Polvo (Tucson) 13 miles. In 1929, it installed 152 US&S semaphore signals on 94 miles of the 203 miles of single track between Ming (5 miles east of Wellton on the Phoenix line) and Picacho, 94 signals from Estrella to Picacho 60 miles, and 142 semaphore signals from Mongola, NM to Strauss 81 miles. In 1948, the SP began making plans to modify Tower 6 and 47 in El Paso from mechanical to power operation. It would close Tower 6, install all relay interlocking in Tower 47 and the new Tower 196 at the west end of the passenger station. This project was finished in 1950. In 1954 SP replaced semaphore signals with searchlight signals, added spring switches with facing point locks, and lengthened sidings between Tucson and Picacho on 43 miles of single track and four miles of double track. At the time the line had 11 passenger, four scheduled freight and around eight extra freight trains a day.

The El Paso & Southwestern completed a line from Fairbank, AZ northwest to Mescal, then west to Tucson in 1912. At the beginning of 1917, the EP&SW had automatic block signals on 213 miles of single track of the 816 miles operated. It order 122 US&S upper quadrant signals in 1917. The next year the EP&SW installed block signals on 14 miles of single track between El Paso and Mastadon, NM, 39 miles of single track between Moores Spur, AZ and Pratt, NM, 25 miles of single track between Lewis Springs, AZ and Osborn. In 1919 the EP&SW completed the installation of block signals on 19 miles of single track between Forrest, AZ and Lee. By the end of 1919, the EP&SW had 310 miles of single track with automatic block signals. After the SP took over the EP&SW, it added 202 signals between Mastadon and Pratt, NM 132 miles in 1929.

When I first visited Tucson in March 1968 and spent several days recording freight train consists, the primary power was SD45s, GP35s, and U25Bs. A fairly common combination was two SD45s bracketed by a GP35 and a U25B. However, there were all kinds of other combinations plus the occasional U50, DD35B, GP30, and GP9. The Sunset Limited (the only surviving passenger train) was powered by an E9 and an E7B.

When I started taking pictures in the early 70s, the primary freight power on the Sunset Route was SD45s and U33Cs. The crews disliked the big GE U Boats as they rode rough. The big GEs didn't last long and were replaced by GP40s and Baby Boats in the early 80s.

For most of the route there were few improvements to the original route laid out by the SP in the 1880s. Sidings were lengthened to handle longer trains and there were two sections of double track. A second track was added between Wellton and Dome in 1926. With the merger of the El Paso and Southwestern into the SP in 1927 the two lines were tied together at Tucson and Mescal and used as double track between those points. The former SP line was used by eastbound trains and the EP&SW line was used by westbound trains. But for the most part, the Sunset Route was single track across Arizona and New Mexico. Then in 1958, the SP began doing major improvements to the Sunset Route. In 1958, SP began to install CTC Mescal to Lordsburg 124 miles and incorporated the interlocking at Mescal. Part of the project removed four sidings and lengthened 14 other sidings to at least 9,000 feet and added two new sidings. Work was completed in 1959 after installing 39 power switches and 228 signals. During 1958 and 1959 CTC was added between Lordsburg and Anapra (end of double track just west of El Paso) and between Tucson and Gila Bend. On May 17, 1960, the CTC installation was completed on the last segment between Gila Bend and Yuma. This give the railroad 810 miles of either double track or 59 sidings under CTC control from Los Angeles to El Paso, TX. The Tucson Division CTC machines were in a small building east of the passenger station at Tucson. The two CTC machines had new push button controls developed by US&S and released in early 1958. The dispatcher can now stay in one spot at a push button console instead of rolling across the floor to flip switches at the other end of a six foot panel on a conventional US&S Style C machine. The Gadsden-Pacific Division Toy Train Operating Museum at 3975 N. Miller Ave. in Tucson has the Yuma to Tucson CTC machine.

With the increase in container traffic, there were just too many trains for this congested single track line. SP management decided to remove track from Donner Pass and double track the problem areas on the Sunset Route. The problem areas were the grades around Benson. The SP began adding a second track between Fenner and Dragoon in 1994. This project was completed between Mescal and Dragoon in 1996. The Union Pacific continued the double track project extending the double track eastward from Dragoon to Cochise and adding a second track between Luzena and Raso in 2001. It added a second track between Stanwix and Sentinel in 2002 and Fortuna to Blaisdell in 2006. By August 2008 the whole route east of Tucson to El Paso was double track. Work had already started at Estrella and began working eastward completing double track to Mobile by the end of 2008 and Maricopa in 2009. At the same time the UP plans to add a small classification yard at Red Rock to handle traffic in and out of Phoenix. The ultimate goal is double track form Colton to El Paso.

This gallery does include the Santa Fe Branch from Rincon, NM to Deming. This link formed the second transcontinental railroad system across the US. As reference, I've added timetables from the Gila and Lordsburg Subdivisions.

Wellton Crossover
Work Train
Gila Bend
Cienega Bridge

Santa Fe at Deming