The Iconic Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway: Ship Santa Fe All The Way!
The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway, distinctively known as the Santa Fe, likely is not only this country’s but also the world’s most recognized and famous railroad. It has had its own movie, song, and numerous model trains and other purchasable gifts created in its honor. The railroad’s renowned Warbonnet livery has been made in several variations ranging from the more popular silver and red with yellow trim to the blue and yellow. The Santa Fe albeit no longer an operating company, is truly a railroad whose name is as common as that of Coca Cola or General Electric. Today, much of the original AT&SF system survives as part of the BNSF Railway in particular its high-speed, Chicago - Los Angeles main line.
The Santa Fe had its humble beginnings in 1860, originally organized to connect Atchison and Topeka, Kansas with Santa Fe, New Mexico in the southwest and known originally as only the Atchison & Topeka Railroad. After completing its connection to Santa Fe it was renamed as the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe, a name it would carry throughout the rest of its history. After completing its initial main line the railroad quickly began expanding eastward and westward. It reached Needles, California in 1883 and would later reach all the way to Los Angeles in 1885 with a connection to San Francisco by 1900.
The AT&SF accomplished this growth through a combination of takeovers and new construction. It would also expand east from Kansas and reach Chicago in 1888 and by the early 20th century it had spread all the way to the Deep South serving all of Texas’ major cities and even western Louisiana, which would later become a rich business in chemicals. At its largest the AT&SF would own well over 13,000 miles and the routes which made up its system would become some of the most heavily and strategically used throughout the West that remains so to this day. Even before the intermodal revolution the Santa Fe's system was very important in allowing for fast movement of goods in transit from Chicago and other gateway cities to the west coast and vice versa. Coupled with this business the AT&SF also served a number of manufacturing centers throughout the south and southwest.
What led the Santa Fe blossoming into an industrial icon was the introduction of the Chief passenger train in late 1926, and then the Super Chief ten years later. In the late 1930s its legendary Warbonnet paint scheme was born, applied to the new streamlined Super Chief led by Electro-Motive’s new EA streamlined passenger diesels (the new motive power was something the AT&SF was very quick to embrace), and it was an instant hit.
The Santa Fe over the years had become a class act in transportation service, and this was no different with its Super Chief passenger trains which regularly cruised at speeds reaching 90 mph between Chicago and LA covering the distance in around 40 hours (because of its excellent service its no wonder the railroad had many well known figures using its trains, all the way until the Amtrak takeover in 1971). The Super Chief would also have a number of other similar trains like it (such as the Texas Chief and San Francisco Chief) including its sister train the El Capitan. There were also a bevy of other trains which became part of the AT&SF's successful fleet of services such as the Grand Canyon, Tulsan, and Golden State
Much of the railroad’s success throughout its existence was a result of its willingness to embrace new technologies and strive for excellence. Several “firsts” the railroad is credited with include autoracks, a term describing a railroad car built specifically with two or three levels to haul automobiles, and the innovative TOFC or piggyback service (trailer-on-flat-car). As the intermodal revolution took root in the 1980s Santa Fe was quick to jump on board and quickly was perfecting the service, something which carries on today with the BNSF Railway running train after train of containers, literally back-to-back between Chicago and LA.
The mid-1990s would finally see this famous railroad’s name come to an end as it agreed in 1994 to merge with northwestern giant, Burlington Northern, to form the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, who recently changed its name to simply the BNSF Railway. Now gone is the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway and its famous Warbonnet livery although its legend will forever live on in the products bearing its name and famous paint scheme, including gifts and models. Few other railroads, and institutions for that matter, are so recognized and respected as the AT&SF. Its star status can be compared to that of many of today’s Hollywood stars, rich and famous. While the name is gone the Super Chief carries on with Amtrak (as the Southwest Chief) and interestingly many have questioned the BNSF Railway about bringing back the Warbonnet livery and applying the famous paint scheme to its locomotives once more.
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