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South Orient - the Santa Fe years

South Orient logo the Southwest Railfan Santa Fe in San Angelo

South Orient Railroad - the final Santa Fe Years

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The South Orient Railroad was established in 1992, when Santa Fe sold 375 miles of its trackage in central and west Texas. The line sale inlcuded approximately 70 miles of trackage between San Angelo Jct (the San Angelo Subdivision's connection with the Santa Fe Lampasas Sub east of Coleman) and San Angelo, and 305 miles of track from San Angelo to Presidio. The sale also included Santa Fe's San Angelo Yard.

The history of the South Orient's trackage is an interesting one. The line between San Angelo Jct and San Angelo was built by the Gulf, Colorado, & Santa Fe in the late 1880s. West of San Angelo, the trackage is all original Kansas City, Mexico & Orient trackage, built during the early 1900s under the direction of Arthur Stilwell. Stilwell built the line with the intention of reaching the deep-water port of Topolobampo, Mexico, thus creating the shortest possible rail route from Kansas City to the Pacific coast. Construction delays, a shortfall of capital, and a lack of traffic caused the troubled line to wander in and out of receivership, and Santa Fe acquired it in 1928. The Mexican portion of the line was not completed until 1961! At over 300 miles, the segment between San Angelo and Presidio is is the longest remaining stretch of intact former KCM&O trackage anywhere in the U.S.

During the 1980s, traffic levels on the Santa Fe's San Angelo Subdivision fluctuated wildly. San Angelo and the communities to the east (Miles, Rowena and Ballinger) have always provided this stretch of railroad with some seasonal shipments of grain, and the gateway to Mexico at Presidio allowed the line west of San Angelo to host international traffic. Although the traffic volume interchanging to Mexico at Presidio was never anywhere near the volume crossing the Rio Grande at Santa Fe's larger El Paso terminal, the line carried a fair share of traffic, including occasional unit trains of Mexico-bound grain. The line also saw numerous unit trains of molten sulfur operating between a mine near Ft Stockton (west of San Angelo) and the port of Galveston; these trains operated up through the late '80s.

During the late 1980s and early '90s, declining traffic levels (combined with Santa Fe's desire to reduce its rail network to a core system of high-density traffic lines) resulted in the Santa Fe considering an abandonment or sale of the San Angelo Sub. As Santa Fe began its search for a buyer for this low-density line during the early 1990s, train traffic dwindled to just one six-day-a-week local between San Angelo and San Angelo Jct (continuing on to Brownwood), and just one train every couple of weeks west of San Angelo.

Although I began shooting color slides in 1990, I was in college in Dallas and was not often able to photograph Santa Fe trains on the San Angelo Sub. Following are shots of the few Santa Fe trains I WAS able to catch prior to the line sale to South Orient in 1992.

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

  Santa Fe in San Angelo A westbound Santa Fe train passes the old Kansas City, Mexico & Orient depot in San Angelo on August 13, 1990.
  Santa Fe - Ballinger, TX A westbound Santa Fe train passes the old Santa Fe depot in Ballinger, Texas on November 25, 1990.
  Santa Fe - Red Creek An eastbound Santa Fe train crosses Red Creek east of San Angelo in August 1991.
  Notice! Prior to seeking a buyer for the San Angelo line, Santa Fe originally considered abandoning the line, and posted notices like this one at all of its depots along the line.

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South Orient 1992 - 1994   CenTex Rail Link
South Orient 1995 - 1999   Orient Intermodal
South Orient - Running Extra   South Orient Wig-Wags
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