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Escalante Western Railway / Western Fuels

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Escalante-Western Railway (Western Fuels)

Click photos below to enlarge.

  Escalante Western empty coal train at Lee Ranch Jct   Escalante Western loaded coal train at Lee Ranch Jct   Escalante Western loaded coal train at Ambrosia, NM

Escalante-Western Railway, the railroad division of Western Fuels Association, operates over the BNSF Lee Ranch Subdivision between Escalante Jct. (east of Gallup) and Peabody Coal Company's Lee Ranch Mine north of Grants. ESWR's sole purpose for existence is to haul coal to Western Fuels' Plains-Escalante Generating Station (PEGS), located east of Gallup near a junction with the BNSF Gallup Subdivision. ESWR normally operates on weekdays; the empty coal train is scheduled out of the plant at 07:00 and usually arrives at Lee Ranch a little over an hour later. If all goes smoothly at the mine, loading takes around two hours, and the loaded train arrives back at the plant in the late morning to early afternoon. The train consists entirely of coal gons (WFAX reporting marks) with rotary couplers, and is powered by three ex-B&O SD40s (formerly numbered WFA-1, WFA-2, and WFA3, now numbered 601, 602, and 603).

Most of the Lee Ranch Subdivision, including the Lee Ranch mine, is not publicly accessible. Your best bet for finding locations to photograph the ESWR train is to head northeast from Milan on New Mexico State Highway 605. 12 miles or so northeast of town, Hwy 509 branches off from Hwy 605; turn left here and go northwest on 509 for approximately 12 to 15 miles. You will eventually notice the tracks on your left, at varying distances from the highway, at a few locations. Finally you will come to the Hwy 509 grade crossing of the Lee Ranch Sub, north of Ambrosia Lake. This is the only public grade crossing I have found that crosses the Lee Ranch Sub. Reportedly, there is a public crossing of Western Fuels' own trackage just outside the PEGS power plant, but I haven't done enough exploring in that area to locate it.

(Note: the location of the Hwy 509 crossing is known on the railroad as Lee Ranch Jct., although there is no actual junction located here. The proposed Star Lake Railroad, when and if it is ever constructed, will branch off from the Lee Ranch line at this location to reach additional coal deposits to the north.)

I found that it was helpful to refer to a backroads atlas to get a general idea of my bearings, although my atlas (Shearer Publishing's Roads of New Mexico) does not show the Lee Ranch Sub tracks. The atlas does show most of the local roads, though. I monitored Channel 36 (160.650 MHz) on my radio, which allowed me to monitor the progress of the ESWR train. The train crew contacts BNSF DS-8 to copy a track warrant before leaving the power plant, and again before leaving the mine.

Be advised that the ESWR does not run EVERY weekday or even every week; depending on the needs of the power plant, track work, staffing, etc., the train may skip a day or two, or sometimes even a week of operation.

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