The Time the Santa Fe Railway Almost Detonated a Nuclear Bomb
Project Carryall: Save 15 Miles or More Off Your Railroad Mileage By Switching to Nuclear! If you think the words "nuclear" and "railroad" shouldn't exist in the same sentence, you're probably not the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Railway in the early 1960's.
When we think of nuclear bombs, we typically associate them as weapons, since the vast majority are used in military circles, but with the nuclear age came the potential to use these weapons not as deterrence or the annihilation of humanity, but rather construction projects.
Just one year removed from the Cuban Missile Crisis, in 1963 the AT&SF wanted to harbor this technology to re-align their railroad near Ludlow, CA, as well as Route 66 and the brand new Interstate 40, and save about 15 miles off of the mainline right-of-way.
|Map of the proposed nuclear blasting and re-alignments. Public domain image via Atomic Skies|
The idea was to straighten the Santa Fe mainline between Needles and Barstow, as well as reducing the grade through the mountains. Given that all the areas in between the two cities were practically ghost towns, it made sense to try to abandon the route and re-align the tracks and road to a more tangent alignment.
I've made a quick map below for clarity. The nuclear alignment should not be considered definitive, since to my knowledge a full survey of what the grade would have looked like was never completed, or at least not made public.
The actual grade proposed would have changed lines at Goffs in the East and Ash Hill in the West. This would have saved about 50 minutes in transport time for a typical freight train along the route. The State of California would also use the newly-blasted route for an alignment of I-40, saving about 10 miles off of the existing alignment.
|Ludlow, CA Project Carryall Historical Marker. Image by Michael Kindig, 2010, via HMDB|
If you'd like to read more about Project Plowshare, there's a book by Scott Kaufman, "Project Plowshare: The Peaceful Use of Nuclear Explosives in Cold War America" (Link is for Amazon and may earn the site a commission if you use it)