Flagstaff – Rides The Rails
Over 100 freight and passenger trains pass through Flagstaff every day. Like Northern Arizona University, Lowell Observatory, Snowbowl, Black Bart’s Steakhouse and December snowstorms, the railways remain a major transportation route, and is an important part of the culture in this bustling northern Arizona community.
The first Flagstaff rails were staked in 1881 with a diverse labor crew that included Mexicans, Indians and Mormons. The Atlantic and Pacific Railroad began service through the town on August 1, 1882. Flagstaff, then with a population of about 200, quickly prospered with the tourism and trade dollars that rolled in with the trains. Lumber, the major industry in Flagstaff, could now be quickly and efficiently transported by the new rail lines. It also became a wild railroad town of saloons, dance halls and gambling houses. Shootings and lynchings became commonplace and most local merchants kept a gun or rifle close by to handle the local troublemakers.
Despite all this, the relationship between Flagstaff and the A & P was tempestuous from the start. The reason? The steam locomotives required surface water to fuel its operation, and lots of it, but Flagstaff needed the water, too. Decades of negotiating and compromising would follow. Progress would be the ultimate deciding factor in 1953, when the railway retired steam locomotives from their Flagstaff line.
Never profitable, the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad evolved into the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad and promptly went into receivership in 1893, reorganizing as the legendary Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway. It would take many years for Flagstaff to convince the railway that a depot was necessary to serve the traveling public. Santa Fe eventually financed the construction of the Flagstaff depot, which opened in 1926 along what is now old Route 66, between Beaver and San Francisco streets.
Today, the train station operates two services. It acts as the city’s visitor’s center and gift shop and also as the Amtrak station. For visitors who enjoy exploring Flagstaff’s historic district, the depot is a great place to kick back and watch the trains roll by. At 100 trains per day, the wait is never very long.