The last one was cold and rainy…

This post is about the last ATSF train to Presidio one cold, rainy day in 1991.  A friend of mine was there to capture on film.


December 10, 1991 – Last ATSF train makes its way through Alpine on its way to Presidio one last time. ©B. Smith Photo

South of Roswell into Texas, the ATSF had long-time operations between San Angelo and Presidio, Texas and between Carlsbad, New Mexico and Pecos, Texas.  In a future post, I will cover the old line to Pecos, but the subject of today’s post is the line to Presidio.

The ATSF’s South Orient line included 305 miles of track from San Angelo to Presidio. The history of the South Orient line is an interesting one. The line between San Angelo Jct and San Angelo was built by the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe in the late 1880s. West of San Angelo, the trackage is all original Kansas City, Mexico & Orient trackage, built during the early 1900s.  There was a dream reaching the deep-water port of Topolobampo, Mexico, thus creating the shortest possible rail route from Kansas City to the Pacific coast.  That dream was postponed until 1961 when the Mexican portion of the line was finally completed.  However by then, the line had experienced a great deal of difficulty with traffic levels that were modest even in good years.


Just my friend and these cows were there to witness the train has it proceeded further south to reach Presidio. ©B. Smith Photo

During the 1980s, traffic levels varied widely.  Seasonal shipments of grain, and the gateway to Mexico at Presidio offered modest but persistent traffic, including occasional unit trains of Mexico-bound grain.  Up until the late 1980s, the line played host to numerous unit trains of molten sulfur between a mine near Ft Stockton and the port of Galveston.

During the late 1980s and early 1990s, declining traffic levels resulted in the Santa Fe deciding to abandon or sale the line to Presidio. Train traffic dwindled to just one six-day-a-week local between San Angelo and San Angelo Jct, and just two or three trains a month to Presidio.

The line was sold to the South Orient Railroad and operated from 1992-2001.  In 2001, South Orient Railroad sold the line to the Texas Department of Transportation.  TxDot then leased the line to Texas Pacifico Transportation, the current operator.  Even though the line has seen a significant increase in traffic in recent years due to drilling related activities, the line between Fort Stockton and Presidio has seen very little traffic the last few years.  The international bridge to Mexico was burned in 2006 and 2008.  A study is underway to consider how to revive traffic on the southern end of the line as well as how best to rebuild the international bridge.


Just as this was the close of ATSF operations to Presidio, these were the closing days of widespread caboose operations across the nation. Within just a few years, cabooses would be very rare. Never again would ATSF engines and cabooses grace the sweeping plains of Trans-Pecos Texas. Fortunately, ATSF operations would continue in Roswell up until the merger with the Burlington Northern in 2005. ©B. Smith Photo

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