Here’s what to expect as the new Sky Railway trains hit the tracks between Lamy and downtown Santa Fe:
An engine painted with kites that roars fire and smoke.
A death that causes other passengers to solve the crime.
A visit from Santa Claus.
A group of local business owners who jointly bought the old Santa Fe Southern Railway in 2020 to revive their 18-mile excursions have planned a number of activities to keep passengers excited.
“Every train ride will be immersed in entertainment,” said Bill Banowsky, co-owner of the Sky Railway, whose Violet Crown cinema sits on the tracks of the Santa Fe Railyard.
Santa Claus will be on board the first Skytrain, which leaves the Lamy depot on December 3rd, for a Christmas trip from Santa’s workshop to a location in the Galisteo Basin and back. The Christmas season offer will run through December before new owners – including writer and screenwriter George RR Martin – prepare to get the train rolling on a number of other topics.
Martin said in an interview this week that some regional sightseeing trains, such as the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad, which runs between Chama and Antonito, Colorado, have an advantage because passengers can enjoy the scenic wonders of the mountains, prairies and rivers along the way to be able to enjoy.
The drive between Santa Fe and Lamy is hardly scenic, he said. So it made sense for the owners to transform the historic train into a moving stage for entertainment.
The Sky Railway’s first vacation trip will be the train’s first passenger trip in eight years. Santa Fe Southern offered trips to Lamy for two decades – in 1920s wagons – before closing in 2012.
After New Year’s Eve, the rolling entertainment platform offers music programs, a Wild West scene and, in October 2022, a Halloween themed ride.
“You know me – I like severed heads, people who die terribly, and the occasional zombies,” said Martin, best known for his Song of Ice and Fire book series and Game of Thrones TV series. “We’ll see how it works.”
Martin said he also wanted to see culturally relevant programs on the train, such as Native American and Hispanic storytellers and local music groups.
Martin has owned the Jean Cocteau cinema in the Railyard for years, which is next to the courtyard where the old Santa Fe Southern locomotives and wagons stood idle for a long time. He, Banowsky, and other Santa Feans active in the arts – including writer Douglas Preston, National Dance Institute of New Mexico co-founder Catherine Oppenheimer, and artist Gary Oakley – began talking about the possibility of buying the operation and reviving it as a tourist attraction 2019.
At the beginning of 2020, an ensemble of eight investors announced the purchase of the railway with around 20 wagons and the 18-mile-long tracks of the branch line.
Banowsky declined to say how much they had spent. “Probably too much,” he joked.
After the purchase, they focused on repairing tracks and bridges – 19 by Banowsky’s counts – along the route.
They also cleared what Martin called “monster weeds” off the track.
Banowsky said that in some places it looked like there had been no upgrades since 1879 when the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe railways reached Lamy.
The railroad originally planned to roll their train straight to Santa Fe, but railroad managers and engineers found that the steep inclines would make it too difficult to build a main line into the capital of New Mexico. they opted for a branch line.
The first train from Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe to reach Santa Fe arrived in February 1880 and served the city for well over a century. In 1991, the successor to Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe announced the closure of the spur. Santa Fe Southern was formed to purchase rights of way, buildings and equipment for short haul operations. The next year, she began conducting passenger excursions to Lamy. These trains ran regularly until the fall of 2012 when the company ran out of money.
The owners of the Sky Railway began upgrading and renovating the passenger cars and commissioned the local wall painter Joerael Numina to paint the two locomotives: one as a dragon and one as a wolf.
The wolf machine will howl when it passes, said Martin.
Preston, best known for his popular thrillers, recently published a children’s book called Santa’s Dragon – a theme related to the railroad. He said he hoped Sky Railway “becomes an important part of our time”.
He added, “It’s really great to have a living piece of history and shape it into something wonderful for Santa Feans and visitors.”