Thursday, November 25, 2010

125 years of rails over Cajon Pass

One of the most famous stretches of railway in North America - that over Cajon (pronounced Ka-hone) Pass in the San Bernadino mountains of California - marked 125 years of operation this month. We know quite a few railway enthusiasts in New Zealand take an active interest in it.

Since 1972 the highest point on the railway lines has been given as 3,777 feet (1,151 metres), only about half that of Donner Pass further north but snow often falls in winter.

The first line through the pass was built in the early 1880s by the California Southern Railroad, a subsidiary of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway, as part of a route between the present day cities of Barstow and San Diego.

Today, the Union Pacific Railroad and BNSF Railway (the successor to the Santa Fe) use this pass to access Los Angeles and San Bernardino.

The Amtrak Chicago to Los Angeles Southwest Chief passenger train also travels through the pass.

The UP owns and operates one track through the pass, on the previous Southern Pacific Railroad Palmdale cutoff, opened in 1967.

The BNSF had two tracks before a third was completed and began to be operated in the summer of 2008. The railroads have shared trackage rights through the pass ever since the UP gained trackage rights on the Santa Fe portion negotiated under the original Los Angeles and Salt Lake Railroad. The original BNSF (Santa Fe) line was constructed in 1890.

The 3.0% gradient for a short distance on the south track is especially challenging for long trains, making the westbound descent potentially dangerous and a runaway can easily occur if the drivers are not careful. The second track, built in 1913, makes a 2-mile (3.2 km) loop around the hills at a lesser 2.20% gradient. It ran through two short tunnels, but both were removed in order to add the third main track that runs parallel to the 1913 line. Speeds of 60 to 70 mph (100 to 115 km/h) can be seen on the straighter track away from the pass, but are typically 14 to 22 mph (23 to 35 km/h) while ascending and between 20 and 30 mph (32 to 48 km/h) while descending. The third track enables a capacity of 150 trains a day on the BNSF lines.

The older photo from the US Library of Congress shows a steam-hauled freight train ascending the pass in March 1943, and the recent photo shows Burlington Northern Santa Fe D9-44CWs numbers BNSF 4448, BNSF 5243, BNSF 4743 and BNSF 5365 crawl around the long S curve at Cajon Summit with an eastbound intermodal service.

No comments: