Welcome to Photo Line! Union Pacific's ex-Southern Pacific "Sunset Route" winds its way through some of the most exotic and harsh territory in the United States. The portion that runs through Arizona is legendary for its stark and rugged beauty, due in no small part to SP's former house publication, Sunset magazine. After sundown, the provocative nature of the landscape shines through and makes this heavily trafficked railroad line all the more interesting. Photos by Steve Schmollinger
Amtrak's Sunset Limited at Wilcox Playa
Running through the heart of what once was the territory of the Chiricahua Apaches, Amtrak train No. 1, the westbound Sunset Limited, crosses southeastern Arizona’s mysterious Willcox Playa at dusk in October 1998. The Cochise Mountains loom in the distance.
Ripping the sky at Rillito
Giant ultra-violet bolts of lightning rip the sky over the Tortolita Mountains not far from the west switch at Rillito, Arizona, in July 1998. Such visual fury is typical of monsoon thunderstorms along the Sunset Route.
Reflecting the last rays at Tully
The landscape at Tully, Arizona on the Sunset Route is already dark, but the polished heads of UP’s double track line reflect the last rays of the setting sun in October 1999. A constant parade of trains keeps these rails shiny.
Roll-by at Rillito
Hurry up and wait is the name of the game on this busy mainline. An eastbound waiting at the east end of Rillito gives a roll-by to an opposing train not long out of Tucson. This is the second train UP 4755 East has met here on this evening in October 1998.
Comin' down the mountain
A Union Pacific eastbound enters the environs of downtown Tucson at dusk in September 1999. In the distance are the steep and rugged Tucson Mountains.
Fanfare and crescendo at Marana
The crossing gates go up after the UP freight passes, and then the photographer and his two sons wait. The three can feel the tension filling the air, and after a few moments, “Swoosh!” a giant network of lightning bolts and branches sweeps across the sky from right to left. This October 1998 scene was captured at Marana, Arizona.
Union Pacific westbound at dusk
In the blue dusk of a chill evening in December 1999, a UP westbound lights up the code lines and rails at Rillito, Arizona. Once a common feature of the railroad landscape, changing technology and more efficient methods of communication are rendering the old pole lines a thing of the past.
Reflections at Red Rock
In September 1999, a westbound UP intermodal train waits patiently in the siding at Red Rock as clouds turn brilliant colors over Arizona’s Picacho Mountains. The headlight of the opposing train is already beginning to illuminate the code lines at the lower left portion of the image.