Cantilever 2512 -- The Final Night (part III)
By the mid-60s the long run of prosperity was running into a bit of turbulence. Outside of a couple of short recessions, the wealth of the country continued year after year. But then the US wasn't alone any longer as Europe and Asia completely rebuilt, with help from the Americans, their war ravaged industry into super-efficient producers. Imports, inflation caused by the Vietnam War, and then finally oil shortages of the 70's changed forever the industrial complex of the country. The railroad, unfortunately, is not immune to these economic forces. But fortunately for the Santa Fe, they were in a position to take advantage of their long haul, fast transcontinental mainline and adapt to the new economy.
If the freight locomotives and trains that rolled under cantilever 2512 in the 50s and early 60s were big and fast compared to those in 1940, they were certainly monstrous and even faster by the end of the 60s. EMD's biggest and baddest, the 3600 HP SD45, began shaking the very ground that anchored cantilever 2512. A major achievement in the advancement of fast freight was reached in July of 1967 with the inauguration of the Super-C, a 40 hour start to stop freight train from Chicago to LA, where speeds of upwards of 90 m.p.h were routinely met. The Santa Fe was doing everything possible to fight the erosion of its most profitable freight traffic to the Interstate trucker, at the same time eliminating as many employees as possible. Power no longer changed at Belen and other intermediate points, but instead ran through from Chicago to LA. In an admission that it was losing to the trucking industry, more and more trains had trailer-trucks on flat cars. Faced with dwindling carloads in the perishable business and an inevitable re-investment into the equipment, the AT&SF disposed of every last refer in 1984. No longer would signal 2512 witness the strings of yellow and orange ice and mechanical reefers.
After a long and proud passenger history, the railroad finally threw in the towel and joined Amtrak, leaving only one train a day each way.
Even the roadbed under signal 2512 was changing. One-hundred-thirty-six-pound welded rail replaced jointed rail on the eastward main in 1962, and the westward main in 1966. Heavier crushed stone ballast was leveled on top of the once familiar black cinder-cone ballast that was mined near Flagstaff. By all accounts, the roadbed never looked better.
The nadir for traffic was possibly the early 80s when the brutal recession of 1982 hit the railroads particularly hard. Eventually the Santa Fe was able to capitalize on deregulation of the industry and market its strength as a premier intermodal railroad. By 1990, with a new marketing strategy in place and double-stack traffic experiencing explosive growth, train frequency continued to climb steadily, approaching levels not seen since the War, even though gross-ton mileage was way above WWII figures. Despite the renaissance, the corporate empire that was Santa Fe ceased to exist when it was merged with the Burlington Northern. Signal 2512 now had a new owner, and the Diesels that had been painted silver-and-red or blue-and-yellow, the same colors on Diesels that had cruised under signal 2512 when it was cut into service on 8 October 1940, were now green and orange.
Through it all, for over 60 years, signal 2512's lamp burned bright. For all the changes that came to the railroad during this period, signal 2512 changed not at all. It is one of the few tangible reminders along the right-of-way that evoked a different time and place, when everything was done the railroad way, and when railroads truly had inherited the earth. But tonight, in the early morning hours of 5 June 2001, cantilever signal 2512 has only a few more hours to burn. By sunrise a new generation of signalmen will be along the railroad, and when Form C is activated at 8:00 AM, the crews will be cutting power and line wires, extinguishing 2512 for good. By 3:00 PM the cantilever will be torched at the base and tossed to the side. What started on the morning of 8 October 1940 ended at 3:00 PM 5 June 2001.