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Raton Pass

August 19, 2009

Trinidad, Colorado, is at the base of Raton Pass. The pass is the southern route through the Rocky Mountains, located on the Colorado / New Mexico border. The railroad over the pass belongs to BNSF, and is the former route of Santa Fe passenger trains between Chicago and Los Angeles. Freight trains used a longer but easier route further south. Today, Amtrak’s Southwest Chief and a local freight comprise the only regular traffic over the line.

Mid July found me in Trinidad, and the proximity to Raton was too appealing to pass up. Early in my exposure to railroads as a child, I saw numerous steam era photos of Santa Fe trains on the pass in old Lucius Beebe books in the Carbondale Public Library. It was an impressive show, even in black and white photos found in the pages of a book. Raton Pass was to me a sort of magical place, populated by 4-8-4’s on the head end of passenger trains with helpers blasting a volcanic plume skyward on the rear. And now I was minutes away from the bottom of the hill. How cool was that?

A friend and I drove east of Trinidad to get a photo of Amtrak’s Southwest Chief at speed on the flatlands preceding the mountains. Flatlands may actually be a misnomer. While the terrain may appear flat, the railroad gains altitude at a pace that can be felt by the ears as the train descends the grade.

At Hoehne, the Southwest Chief was still running at track speed as it passed with the mountains in the background.


From Trinidad, the railroad starts up the grade of Raton Pass. The train makes a snail’s pace up the grade, showing roughly an hour between Trinidad and the next station stop of Raton, despite the distance as the crow flies being around 20 miles. The interstate parallels the tracks up the pass, and the highway is in the background as the train rounds a sharp curve halfway up the grade.


Backing off on the zoom, the rugged nature of the pass hasn’t changed much since those black and white photos that first caught my attention as a child. Just ignore the interstate.


At the summit of the pass, the Southwest Chief rounds a curve as it approaches the crest of the grade.


The rugged nature of the pass dwarfs the train as it nears the summit.


That evening, the mountains loom in the background as the eastbound Southwest Chief rolls into Trindad.


The next morning, the westbound Chief is in town. Arriving a few minutes early, a member of the head-end crew climbed off the locomotive and walked across the street to grab a bite to eat at McDonald’s. He was back on the engine a minute before the scheduled departure.


Departing Trinidad on time, the westbound Chief is minutes from tackling the grade of Raton.


Thanks to my friend Joyce, who shot these photos on Raton Pass.


Copyright 2009 – Mary Rae McPherson

4 Comments leave one →
  1. jmcl permalink
    August 19, 2009 3:46 am

    it was a fun day — Thanks for letting me tag along

  2. Stuart Ison permalink
    October 26, 2009 2:59 pm


    My Wife & I are staying one night in Raton next June on our way north.

    Do you have any info’ on non Amtrak Trains on the Pass, such as how many and at what times ?

    Thanking you in anticipation,
    Stuart Ison
    Stratford on Avon

    • October 26, 2009 6:32 pm

      The Southwest Chief is the only passenger train on Raton. The westbound train passes during mid morning, while the eastbound train passes in the early evening. The train numbers are 3 and 4, and you can find out exact scheduling and the status of a particular train at


  3. February 25, 2010 3:09 pm

    Hey very nice blog!!….I’m an instant fan, I have bookmarked you and I’ll be checking back on a regular….See ya 🙂

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