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Navajo Mine Railroad

Navajo Mining Company

Navajo Mine Railroad - near Farmington, New Mexico

In the isolated northwest corner of New Mexico near Farmington, the Navajo Mine Railroad was constructed in 1974 as a coal conveyor system between BHP Minerals' Navajo Mine and Arizona Public Service's Four Corners Power Plant. Consisting of just 14 miles of track between the mine and the power plant, the Navajo line has no outside rail connections, and is undoubtedly one of the least-remarked -- although most intriguing -- rail operations of the southwestern United States.

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

  Navajo Mine coal train - Four Corners Power 
Plant   Navajo Mine Alco C425 - Four Corners Power 
Plant

Train service on the line consists of two mine shuttles operated by a single crew member. The usual method of operation has the operator run an empty train from the plant to the mine for loading. Upon arrival at the mine, the operator will board a loaded train, take it to the plant for unloading, and then return to the mine; by the time he arrives back at the mine with the empty, the first train will have been loaded and the process repeats itself.

Trains consist of roughly 20 hoppers -- each bearing the name of a Navajo Indian chapter on its side -- and 2 locomotives: an ex-Amtrak or ex-NJT E60 electric locomotive on the north end of the train, and an Alco C425 diesel on the south end. Both the Alcos and the E60s house remote-control equipment, allowing the train to be operated from either end. Not normally operating under power, the Alcos serve as a backups in case the trains' E60s or their electric power source fails, and also allow the railroad the flexibility of multi-directional train moves without having to construct loop tracks or conduct time-consuming run-around moves at either end of the line.

The trains reportedly operate around the clock, five to seven days a week -- although operations are subject to changes dictated by fluctuating energy demands. The Four Corners Power Plant burns approximately 28,000 tons of coal daily, according to the plant's website at http://fourcorners.pwenergy.com/plantinfo/default.asp .

I was fortunate enough to catch the Navajo railroad in action the night of October 27, 2000 (a Friday night); I arrived at the plant just as a train was pulling in. An E60 locomotive pulled the head end of the train directly into the coal dumper -- a location inaccessible for photographs -- but the Alco stopped right in front of me, allowing me to get a few shots from the plant entrance road after hastily setting up my tripod. If you go, take a reliable backroads atlas and know how to use it! I made numerous time-consuming wrong turns as I attempted to locate a public road to the plant, which is located high atop the bluffs above the San Juan River southwest of Farmington. Be sure to allow yourself some extra time to find the place.

My trip to Farmington to seek out the Navajo line was inspired in part by William P. Diven's article, "Lonely Railroads of the Four Corners" which appeared in the October 2000 issue of Trains magazine and discussed the line in some detail. A second source of information is the book New Mexico's Railroads - A Historical Survey by David F. Myrick, © 1990 - University of New Mexico Press. These two sources are the only references to the Navajo Mine Railroad that I have ever seen in print.

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All images on Wes Carr's Southwest Shorts © 2000, 2001 by Wes Carr. All rights reserved.
Wes Carr claims no affiliation with the Navajo Mine Railroad, BHP Minerals, or the Four Corners Power Plant.


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