Signal 1782, I-40

 

Probably no one event affected the railroads greater than the 1956 National Interstate Highway and Defense Act. On June 29, with the stroke of a pen, President Eisenhower literally created an entire transportation system that would liquidate, bankrupt, prune or deface all railroads. Armed with an initial and unbelievable 25 billion dollar public funding mechanism, the Interstate Highway System's major network spanning the four corners of the United States was completed in less than 15 years, a mammoth achievement by any standard. Conceived as a means to transport tanks, armored vehicles and troops in times of war, the Interstate system was constructed to generous military standards - a minimum of 4 lanes with wide clearances, broad shoulders and load bearing bridges. With this solid infrastructure in place, it didn't take long for the trucking industry to take advantage of the system, and soon began siphoning the lucrative freight from the railroads. What began as a trickle in the early 1960's ended in a flood at the close of the decade. After being called upon and rising to heroic proportions by transporting virtually all men and material during World War II, the government rewarded the railroads with a system that not only was designed to replace a method that proved more than capable during World War II, but also created a system that nearly killed it. The effects of the Interstate are beyond calculation and not limited to the railroads. The ways in which Americans live, shop and play is shaped by the Interstate System.

Interstate 40 is without question the major mid-West to West Coast highway artery and got top priority during the construction of the Interstate system, having been mostly completed by the late 1960s. Interstate 40 is also the Santa Fe's biggest and fiercest competitor. But in a testimony to Santa Fe's naturally gifted route structure and its continual investment dating from 1907, it is perhaps the only corridor in the United States that can actually compete head to head on service. Of course, this is limited to certain markets, commodities and distances. For example, no livestock is present on the rails, and only targeted lanes, like Kansas City to Los Angeles, Chicago to Los Angles, and not the short hauls, can compete. Across the country, all other railroads and routes survive on price, not service.

At 4:00 AM on a 30 September neither railroad or truck carrier rest. An eastward Z train has just flown past signal 1782, while overhead truck traffic in the same direction give chase. Who will win? The overpass is not more than a mile into New Mexico.