The Barnwell & Searchlight Railway

The Barnwell & Searchlight Railway was an Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Railway affiliated short line railroad running between its namesake towns in California and Nevada, beginning operations in 1906. It became integrated into the AT&SF system entirely in 1911, becoming the Searchlight Branch.

The Barnwell & Searchlight Railway map along with the California Arizona & Santa Fe right of way it met at Barnwell, CA. (

Like many desert railroads, it owed its existence to gold speculators, but unlike others that were simply designed to tap into available ore mines, this had a little more complicated history. The Desert Gazette notes that this line was built by the Santa Fe and separately incorporated, spurred by efforts of promoters in the mining camp of Searchlight to built their own railway connection to the Salt Lake Route at Nipton." So, rather than have a competitor build a road, the Santa Fe beat them to it. With the 20/20 vision that is hindsight, maybe the Santa Fe would have backed off a bit.

Unfortunately for the company and ATSF as a whole, the gold rush would not be long lasting, peaking in 1907. Just four years later the line went bankrupt. As the owners of the line in the first place, AT&SF continued operations until a 1923 washout would abandon the line the following year.

Barnwell, CA became a ghost town not long afterwards, the population dwindling to 50 by 1927, along with two other settlements along the right of way; Hart, CA and Juan, NV on the state border.

The right of way today, now a favorite of mountain bikers in eastern California.

Thanks as always for reading!


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