ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — “At 9:01 a.m. on Sept. 30, I opened the switch to the main line and No. 2926 backed out under its own power for the first time since it was in steam back in 1953,” proudly stated by Mathew Casford, chief of rail operations for New Mexico Steam Locomotive & Railroad Historical Society (DBA New Mexico Heritage Rail), which owns the locomotive. “At that moment, the society had fulfilled their charter that they set out to do 25 years ago.
“The engine is restored and on the main line.”
There was a feeling of elation among the NMHR crew and volunteers as Santa Fe steam locomotive No. 2926 and tool car No. 3939 attended the Rail Yards’ New Mexico Railroad Days on Sept. 30 and Oct. 1., in downtown Albuquerque. The highlight from the weekend is obvious, a round-trip ferry move out of the locomotive’s restoration site at 8th Street, traversing New Mexico Rail Runner Express’ Albuquerque Subdivision – Sawmill Spur – and ultimately the ex-ATSF Transcontinental main line. “Our biggest issue was the track getting out to the main and that’ll be addressed before we go out again,” Casford explained. “But everything performed as we expected to.
“There’s no one else out there in the country today that’s run a 2900, so we’re all learning as we go. We took it easy, lots of communication, lots of lessons learned, and our main goal is to get better each time.”
In a world of Positive Train Control (PTC), Casford confirms that both the locomotive and tool car traveled unassisted as the system was not active during the mainline section of the trip. “The limits that we have in our joint-use agreement with the New Mexico Department of Transportation [owners of the 124-mile main line through Albuquerque] were restricted limits at restricted speeds,” he said. “We do have the same PTC [LeaPTC] system that the Union Pacific Railroad has on Big Boy No. 4014.
“It was designed, developed and installed on both locomotives by one of our members, John Howard.”
While the system on No. 2926 was not in use during the run, it did receive a stand-alone test and demonstration for BNSF Railway personnel during the weekend. Events like New Mexico Railroad Days continue to set the stage for additional “dress rehearsals” for the locomotive and crew.
The mainline running may have stolen the show, but the center stage was still at the Rail Yards Market – a former ATSF facility with sections redeveloped for venue purposes, and future home for No. 2926. Railroad Days headlined the 4-8-4 with accessible cab tours for the public and the Saturday night photo session while garnering support from Rail Runner, BNSF, and Amtrak with their displayed equipment. “The parking lot which can handle up to 8,000 people was packed with cars,” Casford said. “We’re building up and trying to maintain support so when the time comes, we can make the home as good as it can be at the Rail Yards.”
Having returned to its current home of 20-plus years on Sunday afternoon, winterizing No. 2926 will begin by the volunteers. This includes completely draining the boiler and tender with compressed air, adding anti-corrosive additives to the superheater units for rust prevention, lapping valves, and ultimately checking off a new punch list in preparation for 2024. “They will have plenty to do and looking forward to getting into it.”
The same will be said for Casford as he continues to build relationships with the parties involved. “This coming week, my schedule is full of debriefing phone calls with various agencies and departments to talk about what went well, what we didn’t like, what we like to do differently, and make everything better for the next time,” he said.
No. 2926’s story continues, now with new and exciting pages ready to be written. However, if there’s a certain page Casford wishes to personally keep bookmarked, it’ll be the afternoon of Oct. 1. “Going home [from the Rail Yards after the event], I was the engineer and was able to surprise my father with a cab ride,” he relates. “The fireman was my younger brother.
“What makes this so unique and special is my family owns a 1.6-scale, live-steam model of No. 2926, and my grandfather was a die-hard Santa Fe fan. He passed away years ago, but I know he was watching the three of us.”
For more information, visit the New Mexico Heritage Rail website.