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The Old Railyard: New Mexico's Most Famous Filming Location

Updated on December 23, 2017
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Jason Ponic works in the exciting world of Hollywood film and television by day and writes by night.

Landmark Restate Goes Hollywood

They were built as the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad's Machine Shops in 1915. An expansive ten acre complex that employed nearly 1,000 employees for nearly sixty years. Their iconic steel and glass design and construction have resulted in some of the most picturesk buildings in all of New Mexico. The immense size of the main shop has become an ideal filming location for some of Hollywood's biggest productions.

During my college years, I had the privilege of filming my thesis film at this amazing place. We were proud of the opportunity to add our film to the illustrious list of productions that have occupied the Old Railyard.

Lit entirely by natural sunlight.
Lit entirely by natural sunlight.
Note the red Ford F-350 in contrast to the size of the Main Bay
Note the red Ford F-350 in contrast to the size of the Main Bay
The amount of steel in the complex is impressive.
The amount of steel in the complex is impressive.

The Complex

Of course, unquestionably the first thing that people notice is the shear size of the buildings. In total, the Old Railyard is 27 acres. The main machine shop stands an impressive sixty feet tall and spans the length of three football fields. The other buildings are equally as impressive each with its own characteristics and landmarks. The blacksmith shop has vaulted ceilings for example.

Inside and out the complex is constructed of riveted steel I-Beams and lead glass. This was to maximize the amount of natural sunlight that can flood the buildings. At the time of their construction, artificially lighting a structure of that size was all but impossible. Even at sunset, the amount of natural light is comfortable enough to read by.


From 1915 to 1970, the Old Railyard was an active maintenance hub for the AT&SF Railroad. The original buildings of the site are to the south, made of brick and adobe, these were built in the 1880s by the Old A&P Railroad with the steel and glass builds added by AT&SF following their buyout of A&P.

Core operation was the maintenance and repair of AT&SF's steam locomotive. During WWII, the shops operated at their peak, completing forty overhauls a month and employed over 1,500 people. However, during the transition from steam to diesel in the 1950s, productivity at the Old Railyards began to decline as the diesel shops were moved to the west. The shops were finally closed in the 1970s and have remained abandoned ever since. The city assumed ownership of the complex in the 1980s and several unsuccessful attempts were made to revitalize the shops.


In response former Governor Bill Richardson's film incentive program, the Old Railyard was made available by the city of Albuquerque for use as a filming location. The photogenic restate made it an instant hit for filmmakers and the Railyard has become New Mexico's most demanded location. Typically a production with pay between $14,000-$25,000 a month in rent for total unrestricted access to the complex and the surrounding property.

The LA Branch with the Old Railyard in the background
The LA Branch with the Old Railyard in the background

Terminator Salvation

The fourth installment of Terminator was the first major production to occupy the Old Railyard. For six months the production filmed at the complex. It's size and versatility are evident as it was used as several separate locations in the film including the LA Branch, Prisoner Processing, and Skynet,


The Old Railyard made its second appearance in Transformers most notably during the scene where Barricade chases Bumblebee. The complex also made an appearance in Transformers 2.


Legislation was passed under much controversy to renovate the complex into a museum making the Avengers, one of the very last productions to occupy the Old Railyard.


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    • icehubber profile image


      8 years ago from Iceland

      I just love old trains and railroad stations, thanks for the story


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