TABB - Carbon Junction and the Farmington Branch

History of Carbon Junction and the Farmington Branch

Old Railroad Grade is visible in places along this portion of the route. View coal seam point of interest.

GPS Location: 37.231909, -107.863886 (essentially where the Walmart and car dealership are today)

Miles from Chama: 105.48 Miles

Miles from Durango: 4.45 Miles

Carbon Junction, Durango, CO 1946 Source: John Porco

In 1905, the Rio Grande built a 47-mile branch from Carbon Junction to Farmington, NM. Carbon Junction is south of Durango along US 160 and is now the site of a Walmart and a large car dealership.


Interestingly, the Farmington branch was built as standard gauge and operated as an isolated standard gauge branch until 1923. At the time it was built, the assumption was that all the narrow gauge would soon be standardized, and the Rio Grande also wanted to head off a competitive threat that the standard gauge Santa Fe or Southern Pacific would build into the Farmington area from the south. But neither happened, and eventually the Farmington branch was narrow gauged.


For a few years the mainline from Carbon Junction to Durango and part of the Durango yard were dual gauge, including both narrow gauge and standard gauge track. Initially, the branch hauled mainly agricultural products. In fact, the passenger train was informally called the “Red Apple Express.”


In the late 1940s, oil and gas were discovered in the Farmington area, which is still a major energy producing area. Because the field was new, the Rio Grande hauled massive quantities of pipe and other drilling materials from Alamosa over Cumbres Pass and down to Farmington. In fact, at one time in the 1950s, Farmington was the busiest freight station on the entire Rio Grande system. This oil boom helped sustain other sections of the line from Alamosa until preservation efforts were undertaken.


The oil traffic began to decline in the early 1960s and the Farmington Branch was abandoned in 1968, along with the rest of the narrow-gauge line from Chama to Durango. Not much remains of the branch today. An old water tank is visible from US 550 at Bondad. Several old steel truss bridges remain in place over the Animas River. A Rio Grande caboose sits in the Aztec Museum and Pioneer Village in Aztec, NM. Other traces are gone.