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Black Mesa & Lake Powell Railroad

Black Mesa and Lake Powell, Black Mesa, Lake Powell, BMLP, BM&LP, Page, Kayenta, Kaibito, 
Cow Springs, Navajo, Navajo Generating Station, Glen Canyon, Peabody Coal Company, 
shortlines, shortline, short line, short lines, shortline railroad, trains, Carr, Wes Carr

Black Mesa and Lake Powell The Southwest Railfan Black Mesa and Lake Powell E60C locomotive

Black Mesa & Lake Powell

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Located entirely within the state of Arizona, and isolated from other railroads (meaning no outside connections), the 78-mile Black Mesa & Lake Powell exists purely for the purpose of transporting of coal between the Peabody Coal Company's Black Mesa Mine near Kayenta and the Navajo Generating Station power plant at Page.

Construction of the BM&LP took place during the early 1970s. In the interest of providing a more economical operation, the line was electrified (it was the world's first 50,000 volt railroad). Electrification allowed the company to avoid the expensive option of trucking in what would surely have amounted to an annual total of millions of gallons of diesel fuel; the locomotives instead receive their "juice" from overhead catenary lines stemming directly from the power plant. General Electric produced six E60C locomotives (a model unique to the BM&LP) for the railroad between 1972 and 1976.

To meet the needs of the power plant, the railroad's single trainset runs on a near-continuous basis -- 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The train usually makes three round trips daily between the mine and the plant, although I have heard reports that on Wednesdays, only two round trips occur, as the first shift reportedly does not work that day of the week. When I visited the BM&LP in October 2000, the line was nearing the end of an intensive three-year track rehabilitation project, performed by outside contractors. The work included the installation and/or replacement of concrete ties at several locations. So if you're planning a visit, bear in mind that maintenance projects may disrupt train operations.

Something else to bear in mind is the impending retirement of BM&LP's fleet of E60C locomotives. The railroad recently acquired several surplus E60 locomotives from Mexico; these locomotives are in excellent condition and are essentially "new", having been stored "south of the border" for many years after being built decades ago for a Mexican electrification project which never fully materialized. BM&LP's acquisition of the Mexican E60s will allow the eventual retirement of the older E60Cs. Before entering service, however, the Mexican locomotives must first undergo numerous modifications to ensure compatibility with Black Mesa & Lake Powell's operations. One of the required modifications is the installation of a magnetic device to trigger the lowering of the engine's pantograph when it passes beneath the coal loading tower at the Black Mesa Mine. The locomotives must also be upgraded from their present 25,000 volt configuration in order to achieve compatibility with Black Mesa & Lake Powell's 50-kilovolt catenary.

As far as accessibility for photographs, all of the photos on this page were taken from publicly accessible areas and did not involve trespassing. BM&LP's trackage is contained within the Navajo Indian Reservation in northeastern Arizona; when visiting, it is recommended that you respect property rights on the Reservation just as you would anywhere else, but that doesn't necessarily mean restricted access to the railroad. Unless posted or gated, roads in the area, both paved and unpaved, are generally publicly accessible.

Leaving the power plant at Page, the railroad goes underneath state highway 98 at the location of the only highway overpass on the line (this spot offers a splendid view of an approaching eastbound train with Lake Powell in the background; see Trains Magazine's January 2001 issue, pp. 48-49 for an excellent Howard Ande photo taken at this location) and then the line meanders away from the highway. At several locations, it is possible to reach the tracks from the dirt roads that criscross the Navajo Reservation. Watch for signs bearing numbers which are posted along the highway at the dirt road entrances; the numbers refer to the nearest railroad milepost to which the dirt roads provide access. A reliable vehicle and plenty of water (especially during the warm-weather months) are HIGHLY recommended; this is some VERY sparsely-popluated country. Not all dirt roads are passable at all times; be especially cautious during periods following rain or snowfall.

Near Cow Springs, southeast of Kaibito, the railroad approaches US Highway 160 from the north and runs parallel to it for approximately 20 miles before reaching the Black Mesa mine, the loading tower of which is located adjacent to Hwy 160. This area provides the easiest access for hassle-free photography, but be sure to avoid venturing onto the mine property at Black Mesa. BM&LP's actual right-of-way is fenced along its entire route, and imposing cattle guards protect the tracks on both sides of all public crossings. Not to worry, the photo opportunities available OUTSIDE the fence are numerous (not to mention safer).

A few words about Lake Powell: Lake Powell was created in 1963 when the construction of the Glen Canyon Dam west of Page was completed. It took 17 years for the waters of the Colorado and San Juan Rivers and their tributaries to fill the lake to its present level. Lake Powell and Glen Canyon offer ample opportunities for boating, fishing, hiking, and camping; the entire area is known as the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and is under the jurisdiction of the National Parks Service. For more information, consult the National Parks Service's Glen Canyon page at http://www.nps.gov/glca/ or onlineutah.com's History of Glen Canyon page at http://www.onlineutah.com/glencanyonhistory.shtml

Chances are, if you have occasion to watch and photograph the Black Mesa & Lake Powell, it will be during a trip to Lake Powell or the not-too-distant Grand Canyon, and your activities centering on the railroad will be but a small portion of a schedule which also includes activities focused on the natural wonders of the region. But if you're making a trip specifically to see the railroad, I recommend setting aside at least a day or two to visit and explore Lake Powell and Glen Canyon. The scenery here, especially when viewed FROM the lake, is spectacular.

I hope you enjoy the following photos; I took them during an October 2000 visit when (unfortunately) the weather provided less-than-ideal conditions for photography. Still, being several hundred miles from home and with limited time (and a forecast that didn't promise for conditions to immediately improve) I attempted to make the best of it. I hope you enjoy the results.

Please click on any of the following pictures to see a larger image:

  Navajo Generating Station - Page, Arizona Where all that coal goes: the Navajo Generating Station is located southeast of Page, Arizona, on the shoreline of Lake Powell. Photographed October 27, 2000.
  BMLP coal train at Lake Powell A Black Mesa & Lake Powell coal train swings around the loop track at the Navajo Generating Station near Page, Arizona, on October 27, 2000. Look closely, and see if you can locate three of the new E60 locomotives the BM&LP received from Mexico earlier in the year.
  BMLP train leaves Page, AZ Four E60C locomotives lead an empty coal train out of Page, Arizona on the overcast morning of October 27, 2000. The train has just departed the Navajo Generating Station and is beginning its second trip of the day to Black Mesa mine near Kayenta. Lake Powell is visible in the background.
  BMLP at Kaibito, AZ Four E60C locomotives lead an eastbound BM&LP empty coal train through the Navajo Indian Reservation near Kaibito, Arizona on October 27, 2000.
  BMLP eastbound near Cow Springs A Black Mesa & Lake Powell empty coal train rounds a curve near Cow Springs, Arizona on October 27, 2000.
  BMLP at Cow Springs Black Mesa & Lake Powell E60C 6006 leads an eastbound empty coal train through Cow Springs, Arizona on October 27, 2000.
  BMLP E60C locomotive Here's a close-up of BM&LP E60C # 6006 at Cow Springs, AZ on October 27, 2000.
  BMLP train at crossing near Black Mesa 50,000 Volts!! Red, rectangular signs warning motorists of the overhead voltage are posted at all of the BM&LP's public crossings between Page and Black Mesa. An eastbound approaches a crossing near the Black Mesa mine on October 27, 2000.
  BMLP Black Mesa Mine Pictured here is the loading tower at the Peabody Coal Company's Black Mesa Mine near Kayenta, Arizona, on the east end of the BM&LP. A train has just arrived to begin loading on the afternoon of October 27, 2000.
  Overhead conveyor belt - Black Mesa Mine To reach the Black Mesa loading tower from the actual mining area, the coal must pass over US Highway 160 via conveyor belt on this overhead bridge. Photographed just outside the loading area at Black Mesa, AZ on October 27, 2000.
  BMLP coal train loading at Black Mesa Black Mesa & Lake Powell E60C 6006 leads a train around the loop at Black Mesa during the loading process on October 27, 2000.
  BMLP coal train loading at Black Mesa Black Mesa & Lake Powell E60C 6006 leads a train around the loop at Black Mesa during the coal loading process on October 27, 2000.
  Black Mesa and Lake Powell - Black Mesa Mine Black Mesa & Lake Powell engineer Kel Bennett climbs the steps of lead E60C 6006 after checking the coal loop switch at the Black Mesa Mine on October 27, 2000.
  Black Mesa and Lake Powell logo Here's a close-up view of one of the Black Mesa & Lake Powell logos which adorn the sides of BM&LP's locomotives.
  BMLP westbound near Cow Springs Photographed west of the Black Mesa Mine near Cow Springs, a Black Mesa & Lake Powell coal train -- now loaded -- heads west back toward the power plant at Page.
  The BMLP at speed This photograph was the best result out of a series of attempted "pan" shots of BM&LP E60C 6006 as it led a loaded coal train between Black Mesa and Cow Springs. I did not take this from a moving vehicle, but rather, stood along the tracks on the opposite side of US Highway 160 and as the train passed, I "panned" the camera during a 1/8-second exposure, stopped all the way down. Photographed October 27, 2000.

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All images on The Southwest Railfan © 2000 - 2004 by Wes Carr.
All rights reserved.

Wes Carr would like to thank the following individuals for their
assistance in providing information on the Black Mesa & Lake Powell:
Richard A. Stigall, Gary Stigall, Alan R. Burns, and BM&LP engineer Kel Bennett.



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