Fight for Removal Started in 1901
After 50 years of strife and planning the railroad tracks are being moved from streets of downtown El Paso.
In1901, City leaders started getting up steam against the railroads for blocking traffic. They demanded track depression. The issue rose a year earlier.
The City stuck, by that track plan through two world wars, a depression and numerous counter proposals by the railroads. Finally, in 1947 railroad representatives, City officials and El Paso voters found themselves on the same track.
Trains Scared Horses
An 1881 City Council created the grade crossing problem. Council members granted a franchise to the Galveston. Harrisburg and San Antonio Railroad to operate on a 40-foot right-of-way.
By 1901, City leaders grew tired of hearing complaints of trains scaring horses, blocking wagons and buggies. They passed an ordinance ordering track depression.
Practical minded aldermen also ordered the railroads to pay for the project, and to have it completed in 12 months. That ordinance was never enforced.
But voters were not allowed to forget the depression issue. Every candidate with an ambition to sit in the mayor's chair campaigned on the track project.
Demand in 1917
Finally, in 1917 a City Council again demanded track depression at the railroad's expense. The Council, in an ordinance, instructed the El Paso and Southwestern Railroad to lower its tracks below the ground from Santa Fe to Campbell streets.
Main and Durango streets, where they intersected the tracks, were to be closed to traffic. The closed street section defeated the second depression project.
Voters went to the polls in august. 1917, and voted 1442 to 201 against closing the streets. A week later, the Council repealed its depression ordinance.
The election put a damper on depression attempts by city leaders. Trains continued blocking traffic and the railroads kept silent on the issue until 1923.
In that year, the city Plan Commission and the railroads agreed to study a feasible plan for keeping trains out of El Pasoans’ way. By 1926 the Southern Pacific Railroad announced it had an engineer working on plans.
A year later, city officials found out what the plans were – a project where streets ran under the railroad tracks. Railroad officials named it the "street subway plans."
City officials called it a substitute plan for track depression, and rejected it.
Wanted to Raise Tracks
That same year, railroad officials protested that track depression was too expensive. They estimated it would cost 33,750,000. Railroad estimates also found that relocation of the tracks to South El Paso would cost $5 million.
A year later, the railroad came up with a $2,890,000 answer to the grade crossing problem – an elevated track plan calling for raising of the racks and lowering of the streets.
The City sent its Plan Commission in a huddle. City planners again recommended track depression. But the railroad argued that the depressed tracks would be placed in a tunnel.
By 1929, the City Council called for construction of subways at Kansas, Campbell, Santa Fe, Buchanan, Oregon and Stanton streets for pedestrians, vehicles and street cars.
A Two-Way Plan
That plan died a natural death when Council members failed to adopt the ordinance on final reading. But the railroad put life back into the depression plan.
In September 1929, the railroad suggested a semi-depressed plan. Freight trans were to toot down the depressed track, but passenger trains were to operate on ground surface tracks on Main street.
City officials dug up the original depression plan. A year later, the railroad agreed to depress the tracks, but City action stalled until 1935. Then, Council members studied the chances of obtaining Federal aid.
A 1937 hearing to determine why the railroads could not finance the entire project brought about the passage of another depression ordinance.
The former Mayor Harlan broke a tie Council vote on another depression ordinance that wasn’t enforced. A new City administration took over in 1939, and the depression issue remained dormant until 1942.
A committee headed by E.W. Robertson studied trainway plans for one month and again suggested lowering the tracks as soon as the war ended.
One week after V-J Day in 1945, the City took up on the depression issuer where it left off in 1942. City Council members rejected another elevated train plan submitted by S.P. officials, and passed a resolution asking for track depression.
By 1946, engineers from the DeLeuw-Cather firm in Chicago dug deep into the question. They tested El Paso’s soil to determine whether it was strong enough to support massive steel piling.
They measured El Paso's water table and found it low enough to stay out of track ditches.
The State Highway Department came into the picture in October, 1945. Highway officials earmarked $1.5 million in state funds for the project.
In January, 1947, City voters matched that with $2 million in City funds at a bond election. The vote: 3707 for; 345 against. The Southern Pacific agreed to spend $2 million.
Harlan Hugg of the DeLeuw-Cather firm was hired as project engineer. That fall, workmen began scooping out dirt for the track ditches.
After the death of Mayor Anderson in February, final negotiations were handled by Dan Duke, acting mayor. Mr. Duke signed the important overall contract April 3. Eight days later, Dan Ponder and his administration took office. The Ponder administration let individual contracts.
Mr. Duke, as El Paso's mayor, will be at the throttle of a special train that will roll over the depressed tracks Monday, officially opening a celebration El Paso has been wanting for 49 years