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Santa Fe Railway 1950's era

By Bob Clark

The decade of the fifties can easily be described as an era of transition. While most Santa Fe fans know this era as the one of transition from steam to diesel, there were many other "transitions" that would come to define the Santa Fe's future. As the decade opened, the Santa Fe was in excellent fiscal and physical condition from the massive wartime traffic further continued with the Korean war. The Santa Fe knew that a postwar economy would require significant reversion of industrial production to the output of civilian goods. With record revenues but declining profits, the economics of the mid 20th century (rising wages, inflationary trends and the tax burdens of the US government) required the Santa Fe to make substantial capital expenditures for improvements to the property and the adoption of new technologies to maintain operating efficiency while sustaining a high volume of traffic. The 1953 theme of the Santa Fe as "America's New Railroad" was more than an advertising slogan.

Dieselization was a major theme as the forties ended. The irrefutable economic advantages of the diesel lead the Santa Fe to order 205 units in 1951, 228 in 1952 and another 222 in 1953. Such capital expenditures allowed the Santa Fe to claim 100% desielization at current traffic levels in 1954. Increased traffic required the use of many of the 135 steam locomotives still on the Jan 1, 1955 roster that year and again in 1957, but the end of revenue steam on the Santa Fe was at hand. Ironically, Santa Fe did major reshoppings of their steam and then put them in storage.

Other new technologies marking the decade of the fifties was the use of welded rail. Santa Fe laid 39 miles of it in 1954 with plans for 103 more in 1955, using electrical flash butt welds for the first time in the US. The fifties marked further installations of CTC and Automatic Train Stop. During the fifties we also saw more and more use of boxcars of the 50' variety. Additional technology marking Santa Fe's future was the transition from ice to mechanical reefers and experiments with TOFC loads in 1954 between Chicago and Kansas City. By the end of the decade, TOFC became one of the bright spots in the Company's freight traffic picture.

The Santa Fe was never a railroad to ignore passenger service, and the fifties were no exception. First class service has always been their hallmark and despite a shift away from rail travel on many railroads, the Santa Fe recommitted itself to providing a quality  travel experience, especially on it's fleet of transcontinental streamliners, going so far as adding the San Francisco Chief in 1954. During this period, they developed a technology that would make the transition even to the Amtrak era ... the Hi-Level.