Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

Atchison, Topeka, Santa Fe 2926 almost ready to ride

Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe 2926 is nearly ready to be operable. (Courtesy of New Mexico Steam Locomotive and Railroad Historical Society)

The journey for the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe 2926 is getting closer to riding the rails.

The AT&SF 2926 was built in May 1944 and ran a million miles in the American Southwest before being retired to an Albuquerque park in 1956.

On Sept. 24, the New Mexico Steam Locomotive and Railroad Historical Society held an open house to help promote the 2926 – New Mexico’s only operating mainline steam locomotive.

“Rail tourism is very popular throughout the nation and the world, and we have perfect examples located on our northern border with the Cumbres & Toltec and the Durango & Silverton narrow gauge railways,” said John Roberts, NMSL&RHS board president.

After purchasing 2926 from the city of Albuquerque for $1 in 1999, the historical society has big things in mind for its project.

“If we are permitted, a permanent presence at the Albuquerque Rail Yards, this would be an attraction all on its own and would provide an excellent terminus for Albuquerque’s Rail Trail,” Roberts said. “Having a mainline steam locomotive tourist passenger excursion operation located in the heart of Albuquerque would bring rail fans and other interested people from all over the state, nation, and world, which means (potentially) year-round tourist dollars coming into the city and the state.”

A historical image taken back in the mid- to late-1940s of AT&SF 2926. (Courtesy of New Mexico Steam Locomotive and Railroad Historical Society)

The locomotive project has an estimated value of $3.5 million, with $1.8 million being spent in its restoration effort.

“So the current project is 99% complete and I tell people it will probably never be 100%, as you are always working on something,” Roberts said. “So we are doing some electrical work on that and some interior reconfigurations, so we can put things in there, our gift shop and our tool supplies and lubricants.”

Last year, 2926 moved under its own steam power for the first time since 1953.

One question the historical society gets asked frequently is how long before the locomotive could transport New Mexicans.

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“We are trying to work with the city to establish a base for tourist operations for 2926,” Roberts said. “Once we have that operations base established, we will have to work through the regulatory, insurance, corporate and state requirements to operate on the NMDOT-owned rail lines from Belen to Lamy, (which encompasses the Rio Metro Regional Transit District’s Rail Runner) obtain approval and agreement from BNSF and from Amtrak, who runs service through the state two twice a day.”

The historical society hopes to find a base in the near future.

“Given these steps that must be accomplished, I would estimate 1-to-2-years, given favorable circumstances,” Roberts said. “Public displays with 2926 steamed up at the Rail Yards could happen much sooner, which could attract an influx of visitors if appropriately promoted.”

Work continues to get the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe 2926 operable. (Courtesy of New Mexico Steam Locomotive and Railroad Historical Society)

Since its inception, 2926 has been an integral part of Albuquerque’s history.

“People should be interested in 2926 for a variety of reasons as 2926 has been a part of Albuquerque, and the Barelas neighborhood in particular, for decades,” Roberts said. “Many families had fathers or grandfathers who worked on or with the locomotive, and some probably had mothers or grandmothers who were Harvey Girls, working for the Fred Harvey hotels in the area.”

With 2926, NMSL&RHS would like to honor the past and look towards the future.

“Steam locomotives had a huge influence on America’s growth and how people traveled around the nation,” Roberts said. “Looking to the future, we have ideas for many different entertainment/special excursion passenger experiences beyond being pulled by a steam locomotive such as holiday-themed trains for Christmas and New Year’s, dinner and more.”

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