Tucson, AZ - Benson, AZ - Douglas, AZ - Hermanas, NM - El Paso, TX - Santa Rosa, NM and branches

This page was updated on 26 September 2011.

This quite extensive regional system curiously fails to get a mention in the index of Kalmbach Publishing’s The Historical Guide to North American Railroads (first edition). This fact - and finding the EPSW station building in Tucson, AZ still standing in April 2001 - prompted my quest for information. The historical elements on this page owe much to the website of Lloyd W Sumner and to Encylopedia of Western Railroad History - The Desert States by Donald B Robertson (Caxton Printers, 1986). The Arizona & New Mexico volume of SPV’s Comprehensive Railroad Atlas of North America (SPV, 2006) is recommended.

1] Bisbee, AZ - Fairbank, AZ: The earliest element of the EPSW was the Arizona & Southeastern Railroad, incorporated 24 May 1888, and built 1888-89 by the Phelps Dodge Corporation and their subsidiary Copper Queen Consolidated Mining Company as an industrial line to carry copper anodes from the Copper Queen mine and smelter at Bisbee, AZ to a refinery in El Paso, TX. The AZSE ran from Bisbee for some 60km northwards to a junction at Fairbank with the New Mexico & Arizona Railroad (then owned by the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe, but by 1900 part of the Southern Pacific, and not to be confused with the narrow-gauge Arizona & New Mexico mentioned below). The line appears to have opened on 1 February 1889.

2] Fairbank, AZ - Benson, AZ : Later, the AZSE was extended some 30km further northwards, parallel to the New Mexico & Arizona, to a new connection with the Southern Pacific at Benson. The line appears to have opened by November 1894.

3] Bisbee, AZ - Douglas, AZ: Electricity-industry demand for copper boomed in the early 1900s. Phelps Dodge replaced their Bisbee smelter with a bigger one on the plains close to the Mexican border, and in 1901 extended the AZSE from Bisbee 40km east to serve this new smelter at the newly-formed town of Douglas, AZ, named after Dr James Douglas, a prominent figure at the Copper Queen mine.

4] Douglas, AZ - Rodeo, NM - Animas - Hatchita - Hermanas, NM: In 1900 Phelps Dodge formed the Southwestern Railroad of Arizona (incorporated 19 October 1900). Plans were to extend across the southern edge of New Mexico to El Paso, TX. Track was laid from Douglas east into New Mexico, passing the small settlements of Rodeo and Animas, around the north end of the Little Hatchet Mountains, just north of the mining community of Hatchita (now Old Hatchita), and east into the wide valley which is the present site of Hatchita, a location chosen because of its ample water-supply. Continuing east, the track reached a location where the town of Hermanas was built. While construction was under way, the railway became the El Paso & Southwestern Railroad (incorporated 8 July 1901). The line appears to have opened 13 February 1902. To the EPSW company the assets of the AZSE were also transferred, from 17 June 1902.

5] Hermanas, NM - Deming, NM: In June 1901, a separate construction crew began work from Deming west over the 50km level route to Hermanas. The two crews connected the lines in February 1902 giving EPSW a branch connection to both the ATSF and the SP in Deming - giving shorter hauls to eastern destinations (such as El Paso) than via the previous connections at Fairbank and Benson.

6] Hermanas, NM - Columbus, NM - El Paso, TX: Construction continued east from Hermanas, through the Mimbres River valley to the small border community of Columbus, thereafter following the Mexican border to the Rio Grande River valley and into El Paso in November 1902 (although Robertson puts the opening as 20 June 1903). EPSW now had 466km of main line and 64km of branches, and a second route existed from Benson, AZ to El Paso, TX, duplicating the 1881-built SP main line. The EPSW crossed the US continental divide at 1431m, 47m higher than the SP, and was 46km longer, but its gradients were easier.

7] El Paso, TX - Alamogordo, NM - Carrizozo, NM - Santa Rosa, NM: Phelps Dodge smelting output continued to grow to meet demand, and with it the need for coal and coke to run the smelters. The El Paso & Northeastern Railway (incorporated 21 October 1897) constructed a main line from El Paso north-eastwards which appears to have opened to Alamagordon by November 1898 and to Carrizozo by September 1899; thence to Santa Rosa was built by the El Paso & Rock Island Railway (incorporated 11 December 1900) and appears to have opened by February 1902. From there to Tucumcari, NM, EPSW exercised running-powers over the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific's line. In addition, there were opened branches Alamogordo - Cloudcroft - Russia, NM (the Alamagordo & Sacramento Mountain Railway, incorporated 24 March 1898, absorbed 15 December 1937) and Carrizozo - Capitan, NM; and the long line north-west from Tucumcari to Dawson, NM. The EPNE and EPRI were leased by the EPSW from 1 April 1908, which gave Phelps Dodge links between the coalfields around Dawson and their smelters in El Paso and in southern Arizona. The EPNE (but apparently not the EPRI) was purchased 15 December 1937 (by which stage the EPSW was under SP control).

8] EPSW acquired additional branches in the early 1900s. The Fairbank - Tombstone, AZ branch was built in 1903 and Burro Mountain Jn - Tyrone, NM in 1921 (reached by running powers between Deming and Burro Mountain Jn). A merger with the Arizona & New Mexico Railroad (originally 914mm-gauge, linking Lordsburg, NM and the copper-mining centre of Clifton) was finalised 1 January 1922, bringing EPSW the Clifton - Lordsburg - Hatchita, NM line.

9] With little population, the Douglas - El Paso section saw little local traffic, though the towns of Rodeo, Animas and Hatchita grew to become farming and ranching communities as well as stations and water-stops for the railroad. Columbus was a sleepy border community with a port of entry into Mexico, and a US Army camp, when Mexican rebel Pancho Villa raided the village in March 1916. Activity then increased in the area as General Pershing brought in more troops in an effort to capture the rebel who had dared attack America.

10] Tucson, AZ - Vail - Mescal - Benson, AZ: Coming east from Phoenix, AZ, San Francisco-based SP had reached Tucson 20 March 1880, continuing thence via Benson, Lordsburg and Deming and opening to El Paso 26 May 1881. Thirty years later, the EPSW Tucson extension opened 20 November 1912, diverging from the SP some 2km north-west of both railroads’ Tucson stations, at a point later known as South Yard Jn, and paralleling the existing SP track from Tucson to Mescal, before heading south to Fairbank.

11] Phoenix, AZ - Tucson, AZ: EPSW had once planned to extend further west to Phoenix, AZ and some 2km of this line had actually been constructed west of Tucson before the project was aborted in consequence of the November 1924 takeover by the SP.

12] Purchase and rationalisation: Following World War I, copper prices dropped, causing many mines to cease or reduce activity. EPSW traffic fell drastically, putting a financial strain on Phelps Dodge. Focusing on their core business of copper production, Phelps Dodge decided to sell EPSW, by this time comprising over 1920 route-km. Southern Pacific offered to purchase EPSW for some USD64 million, payable in a combination of cash, stock and bonds, and took control on 1 November 1924.

13] After the takeover, links were built at Anapra, NM and El Paso, TX (South Line Jn) and at Vail, AZ and Mescal, AZ, enabling the parallel SP and EPSW tracks to be operated more efficiently over these sections. EPSW’s Mescal - Douglas - El Paso section became SP’s South Line, and the original SP main line (Benson, AZ - Lordsburg, NM - Deming, NM - El Paso, TX) became the North Line.

14] Tucson EPSW station closed 16 November 1924 and all passenger trains began to use Tucson SP station. Initially, when bound for the EPSW (South Line) they traversed a short section of SP’s Tucson - Nogales, AZ line as far as Tucson Jn, but on 6 December 1925 a link was opened east of the city, from 36th St (on the North Line) to South Line Jn (on the South Line). Passenger trains for the South Line began to use this link (which is now part of the Union Pacific main line). From 6 December 1925 the Tucson Jn - South Yard Jn section of the EPSW was given over to storage of wagons until it was abandoned 25 January 1942. The whole section of former EPSW between South Line Jn and South Yard Jn is now abandoned.

15] Just east of Tucson, the section of the original (21 June 1880) SP North Line from 36th St to Vail crossovers was closed about 1952 and now lies under the huge Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, apart from a short section in the middle retained to make a branch to serve the base. All trains therefore use the former EPSW route from South Line Jn to Vail crossovers.

16] Merger and abandonment: To simplify their corporate structure, several SP-owned railroads were in 1955 merged into the parent Southern Pacific, thus ceasing to be separate corporate identities - the EPSW was merged from 23 September of that year. Over the years traffic on the South Line decreased, and studies indicated that very little of it originated east of Douglas. Even with the additional distance, shipping copper anodes from Douglas north via Benson and the North Line to the refinery in El Paso could be economic if this allowed abandonment of the South Line all the way from Douglas to Anapra. Following Interstate Commerce Commission approval, this section (and the western section from Mescal, AZ to Fairbank, AZ) ceased operation 20 December 1961. Pending litigation, tracks and facilities remained in place until 1963, but later rails were lifted, sleepers (ties) removed, and many of the locations along the route became ghost-towns when railroad employees moved elsewhere.

17] Passenger services: In 1902 the SP and the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific began operating the Los Angeles, CA - Tucson, AZ - El Paso, TX - Chicago, IL The Golden State Limited, including the EPNE/EPRI section between El Paso, TX and Santa Rosa, NM. From November 1913 this train used EPSW tracks throughout from Tucson South Yard Jn to Santa Rosa. The EPSW entry in The Official Guide of the Railways for February 1922 contains the system map and timetable, which shows trains 1 and 2 The Californian [Kansas City, MO - Los Angeles, CA] and 3 and 4 The Golden State [Chicago, IL - Los Angeles, CA] - all run in conjunction with the CRIP and SP. Note that, somewhat curiously, between El Paso, TX, and Tucson, AZ, it was only the westbound The Golden State and the eastbound The Californian that ran via the EPSW - the eastbound The Golden State and the westbound The Californian went via the SP. A through sleeping car between Douglas, AZ, and Phoenix, AZ, was attached to trains 2 and 3. Trains 7 and 8 were "local" to the EPSW. Note the associated Nacozari Railroad and (isolated) Morenci Southern Railway. After the SP's takeover in 1924, most other SP passenger trains between Tucson and El Paso were diverted from the North Line to the South Line; indeed, as late as 1957, of the four passenger trains daily, one semi-fast ran on the North Line via Lordsburg, NM, and the other three, including the two streamliners Golden State and Sunset Limited (the definite articles had been dropped from their names), ran on the South Line via Douglas, AZ (all, of course, had been withdrawn or diverted to the North Line by 1961 when the South Line was abandoned). Passenger service on the El Paso - Santa Rosa section ceased 20 February 1968, when the Golden State was withdrawn throughout. The remaining SP passenger train in the area, the Sunset Limited, saw its frequency reduced to thrice-weekly from 1 October 1970. This train was taken over by Amtrak on 1 May 1971, and at April 2011 was still running thrice-weekly Los Angeles, CA - Tucson, AZ - El Paso, TX - New Orleans, LA - via the North Line, of course.

18] EPSW in 2011: Not only is the El Paso & Southwestern a ‘fallen flag’, but the Southern Pacific is itself no more, having been merged into the Union Pacific on 11 September 1996. The following EPSW sections are understood still to survive in use:

  • Tucson, AZ (South Yard Jn) - Vail, AZ (crossovers) (Union Pacific, freight and Amtrak passenger)
  • Vail, AZ (crossovers) - Mescal, AZ (Union Pacific, as the second track, freight and Amtrak passenger)
  • Benson, AZ - Benson Jn - Charleton, AZ (freight only; Benson - Douglas was sold by SP c.1993 to San Pedro & Southwestern and later truncated)
  • Lordsburg, NM - Clifton, AZ (Union Pacific, freight only)
  • Anapra, NM - El Paso, TX Union Station (Union Pacific, as the second track, freight and Amtrak passenger)
  • El Paso, TX - Santa Rosa, NM (Union Pacific, freight only)

19] EPSW’s Tucson station: The single-storey building, completed in 1913 at a cost of USD45,000, is of brick, terracotta and cut stone, with a red-tile roof having in the centre a round skylight with a large stained-glass window. It saw only twelve years of railway use, closing to passengers 16 November 1924, just weeks after the SP takeover. In 1981 the building became a restaurant, which it remained, with some commercial office-space in the south end, when the photographed by Louis Van Winkle in 1999 and for the USARail's website (scroll down to them!) in 2002, when it was Garcia’s Mexican Restaurant, 491 West Congress Street, Tucson - still displaying its EPSW roundels. The SPV's Comprehensive Railroad Atlas of North America - Arizona & New Mexico (SPV, 2006; page 24) shows the line through Tucson EPSW station as closed. In April 2001, even though visibly out of use and unusable, the track from South Yard Jn to the station was still in place (as it also was in 2002 - as illustrated). Furthermore, local street-plans at that time showed this track as still extending from the EPSW station southwards to EPSW’s South Yard and on to Tucson Jn.

Richard Maund

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