Through the years, Belen has been an important town on the railroad map. With the reorganization of the Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Railway, Belen has returned to being a Hub City in the system.
Besides being the major fueling depot between Los Angeles and Kansas City, dealing with 70 to 100 trains a day, Belen is now the railroad’s Southwest Division headquarters.
When the national company reorganized its divisions, Belen became the headquarters for an area that stretches west from Texico, N.M., to Needles, Calif., and south from La Junta, Colo., to El Paso, Texas.
The reorganization merged the Arizona and New Mexico divisions and moved the division offices from Clovis and Winslow, Ariz., to Belen.
“Belen is the heartthrob of the new Southwest Division,” said Greg White, vice president of the division. He recently moved to Belen from Amarillo, Texas.
“There were several reasons for moving the headquarters here,” he said. “The activity level is high here with the fueling depot, it is centrally located and easily accessible, and, historically, at one time, it was a division headquarters for the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe.”
White has 33 years in the rail business. He started as a locomotive fireman hostler in Denver with the Colorado and Southern Railroad. Through the years, he has worked his way up the ladder while his original company merged with Burling-ton Northern.
Others moving to Belen with the reorganization are Tony Sarrett, general manager of transportation, and Lynn Santi, director of administration.
“I like Belen. It’s a nice town, and people are friendly here,” White said of the 14th move of his career.
“Belen is integral for BNSF; it sits on the predominate corridor for trains from Los Angeles to Chicago or Memphis. The growth of our personnel in the division will be based on the increased traffic on the corridor.”
Currently, there are 2,800 employees in the Southwest Division; 350 are stationed in Belen.
The main goal of the division is to move freight safely, according to White.
“We have a tremendous emphasis on safety of both our employees and the communities we travel through,” he said. “It is driven by our sincere concern for the welfare of our employees and the communities.”
In 2001, Belen received an award for its safety record. White said his managers are continuing to reinforce and foster that same attitude toward safety.
“We want to have a good relationship with the communities we run through. We want to ensure that our tracks are structurally sound so derails don’t happen. Our HAZMAT (hazardous material) specialists work with communities to be prepared for any situation which might occur.”
However, with the railroad industries’ standards for tank cars, including double thick walls, White said, spills seldom occur during derailments. “But we still need to have emergency response people trained to handle a hazardous spill if one should happen.”