The Santa Fe Southern Railway won’t be running tourist trains between Santa Fe and Lamy this summer.
Company officials said last October that they were shutting down for the season as usual. But this week, the board chairman said he had laid off all 11 or 12 full-time staffers, as well as a similar number of seasonal employees, at that time, and he doesn’t expect to operate at all this year.
”There is no money in the passenger business, and we’ve had kind of a national recession for the last four years, roughly,” Karl R. Ziebarth, the company’s primary owner since 2006, told a meeting of the Lamy Community Association on Wednesday. “So we shut down in October, and we’re looking for funding to get fired back up again. And we have a couple of things going, but we can’t tell you that any of them are going to succeed.”
Asked what it would take to resume running the excursion train, Ziebarth, an independent transportation consultant who lives in Dallas, said money.
“We keep working at it,” he said. “You know, Santa Fe Southern, in some ways, has always been of a community kind of a venture. We put it together to save service into Santa Fe. It’s been 20 years now, more than 20 years, since we took the plunge, and I can’t say we’ve done very well by it, but at least we’ve kept the railroad alive, at least until recently.”
The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway reached Lamy in 1879, but it took two more years to build a 16-mile spur into the capital city. In 1991, the successor to the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway announced it was closing the spur, so the Santa Fe Southern Railway was formed to buy the right of way, buildings and equipment for the short-line operation. The next year, it began running the excursion train — usually from Memorial Day to mid-October. It ran one or two trains a day from Thursday through Sunday, and also offered special excursions.
In 2005, the state purchased the real estate, tracks and signals from Santa Fe Southern, so the New Mexico Rail Runner Express passenger trains could use the last four miles of the track into Santa Fe. The excursion trains kept running through the fall of 2012. Ziebarth said he didn’t announce last October that the tourist train would permanently shut down because he wanted “to put things in a positive light.”
He said a steam engine, rather than the old diesel engines used on the excursion train, might attract more tourists, but the noise and smoke from a steam engine would likely be opposed by Santa Fe residents.
“I do not believe we will be able to resume excursion service this year,” he said in a telephone interview Thursday. “But we’re concentrating on trying to develop some freight and some test work.”
In recent years, the spur line has been used to carry construction materials, pipe for the petroleum industry in the Four Corners Area and even used military vehicles to be overhauled at the New Mexico National Guard complex. But Ziebarth said the freight business essentially stopped in 2009, and he is now working on proposals for “outbound shipments.”
More promising, he said, is a proposal to use the old track to test and market “high-tech, risk-detection, risk-avoidance, risk-mitigation intellectual property for the railroad industry. Superior types of grade-crossing surveillance, for instance. Ways of detecting subtle kinks in the rails so you don’t have a derailment during the hot season and so forth.”
Ziebarth said one idea is to develop “intelligent cameras” that identify unusual activities at railroad crossings — like a refrigerator falling off the back of a truck onto the tracks — and automatically notify the engineer of an approaching train. He said he has looked into assembling the components of such a system in Santa Fe.
Contact Tom Sharpe at 986-3080 or email@example.com.