Railroads in the state got their start in 1877 when the Southern
Pacific arrived in Yuma on its way to completing its line to Tucson in
1880. Over the years Arizona would become home
to seventy-six different railroads although most of those have since
been either abandoned, sold, or merged (actually, many disappeared
during the industry's early years due to poor management, economies, or
other factors). One thing that has not changed,
however, is the natural resources it has been known for which include
coal, copper, and (to a lesser extent) timber/wood products. Arizona has been one of the few states to barley lose its original
number of Class I railroads, from three to two.
Prior to the mid-1990s Arizona railroads included Class Is Southern
Pacific and the venerable Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway both
of whom had their main lines running east-west across the state.
And before the fall of 1924 this also included the oft forgotten El Paso & Southwestern, a later SP subsidiary. After 1995 that all changed when the Santa Fe merged with Burlington Northern Railroad becoming the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway (today simply known as the BNSF Railway) and Southern Pacific was purchased by Union Pacific Railroad in 1996. Today, Arizona is still home to both original owners' main lines with Union Pacific's former SP Sunset Route a major corridor between California and Texas and BNSF Railway's Transcon between California and Chicago (this route is also the state's busiest). For more information about Arizona's "classic lines" please visit the links listed below to learn more about them:
In terms of overall mileage, currently Arizona ranks somewhat low at
just over 1,800 route miles. However, during the "Golden Age" of the
railroad industry the state was home
to about 2,500 miles. As such, Arizona has lost about 28% of its rail
infrastructure, which actually is much less than other states. In any
event, the short table below lists its mileage rise and decline. Although Arizona has only ever had two Class I systems the state
is also home to many shortlines, which include the historic Apache
Railway (and its fleet of large Alcos), Arizona & California
Eastern Railway, Arizona Central Railroad, Magma Arizona Railroad
(currently dormant but still on the books), San Manuel Arizona Railroad,
San Pedro Southwestern Railroad, Bauxite & Northern Railway, the
Copper Basin Railway, and perhaps the most interesting of all the Black
Mesa & Lake Powell Railroad a 78-mile entirely electrified railroad
that operates E60C electric
locomotives on a 50,000-volt catenary system (the line is used
exclusively to move coal from the Black Mesa Mine to a power plant at
Lake Powell, where the railroad gets its name).
Regarding the Class I railroads their larger terminals in Arizona
include Tucson, Phoenix, Casa Grande, and Yuma along the Union Pacific
and BNSF has yards in Phoenix, Flagstaff, and Winslow. Today, passenger
service is still available in the state with the Los Angeles-Chicago Southwest Chief along the BNSF Railway stopping at Winslow, Flagstaff, Williams Junction, and Kingman. Also, the Sunset Limited
along the UP stops at Benson, Tucson, Maricopa, and Yuma. Finally,
Phoenix operates a light rail system known as the Valley Metro Light
Rail. The line serves Tempe, downtown Phoenix, and terminates to the
north at 7th Avenue and Camelback Road (the route makes a rough "L"
As far as museums and tourist lines are concerned, take your pick! There are plenty to choose from and include the Arizona Railway Museum, Gadsden-Pacific Division Toy Train Operating Museum, McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park, Southern Arizona Transportation Museum, the popular and well-known Grand Canyon Railway, Verde Canyon Railroad, Sierra Madre Express, Old Pueblo Trolley, Paradise & Pacific Railroad, Superstition Scenic Railway, and the Yuma Valley Railway.
For more information regarding the state's railroads please click here.
This excellent website covers most aspects of the state's rail history
broken down through a number of sections. It's well worth checking
out! You can also learn more about the state's current short line services by visit this section of the website. All in all Arizona railroads are well worth the trip to see with the
backdrop of beautiful deserts and mountains. So, whether you plan to
ride the tourist railroads, visit the railroad museums, or just go out
and railfan one of the state's many shortlines or two Class I railroads
you should have a wonderful time!
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