With the arrival of the railroads to El Paso in 1881, the train tracks marked the northern boundary of the city. As El Paso grew, the tracks divided downtown and created a time-consuming barrier for pedestrians and motorists. In the early 20th century, a trainway was proposed to place the city's main railroad tracks below street level. In 1948, eight major contractors and 22 subcontractors began work on the project. Robert E. McKee General Contractor did the largest portion of the work - regrading the railroad lines, digging the entire trench and laying new tracks. A significant work of civil engineering, the trainway cost $5,500,000 and took more than three years to complete. Over 4,500 gondola cars of dirt were excavated and eight bridges were built over the tracks. A 1,700-foot overpass across Cotton Street, several blocks east of the trainway, completed the project.
The trainway was named in honor of prisoners of war who died in enemy camps during World War II. The name Bataan was chosen to honor those soldiers-both Filipino and American-captured by the Japanese Army after the fall of the Bataan Peninsula. Many of the American prisoners, including thousands from New Mexico and Texas, had trained at nearby Fort Bliss.
The trainway was officially dedicated on August 21, 1950, and Southern Pacific's "Sunset Limited" became the first passenger train to operate on the newly completed trainway. With the completion of the Bataan Memorial Trainway, traffic flowed freely and safely through downtown, aiding the city's growth and prosperity.