History of The Tehachapi Loop
The Tehachapi Loop is a 0.73-mile (1.17 km) long "spiral," or helix, on the Union Pacific Railroad line through Tehachapi Pass, of the Tehachapi Mountains in Kern County, south-central California. The line connects Bakersfield and the San Joaquin Valley to Mojave in the Mojave Desert. Seeing a daily average of almost 40 trains, the line is one of the busiest single-track mainlines in the world.
With its frequent trains and spectacular scenery, the Loop is one of the prime railfan areas in the country. In 1998, the Loop was named a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark and is now California Historical Landmark #508.
One of the engineering feats of its day, the Loop was built by Southern Pacific Railroad beginning in 1874 and opened in 1876. Contributors to the project's construction include Arthur De Wint Foote and the project's chief engineer, William Hood.
On the loop, the track passes over itself, lessening the grade. The loop gains 77 feet (23 m) in elevation as the track climbs at a steady 2% grade. A train more than 4,000 feet (1,200 m) long thus passes over itself going around the loop. At the bottom of the loop, the track passes through Tunnel 9, the ninth tunnel built as the railroad worked from Bakersfield.
The siding on the loop is known as Walong after Southern Pacific District Roadmaster W. A. Long.
A large white cross, "The Cross at the Loop", stands atop the hill in the center of the loop in memory of two Southern Pacific Railroad employees killed on May 12, 1989, in a train derailment in San Bernardino, Calif.
A railroad museum at the restored depot stands in the nearby town of Tehachapi.
The Loop became the property of the Union Pacific in 1996, when it absorbed the Southern Pacific. Trains of the BNSF Railway also use the loop under trackage rights. Union Pacific bars passenger trains from the line, which prevents Amtrak's San Joaquin train from serving Los Angeles. This has been the case since the creation of Amtrak in 1971. An exception is made for the Coast Starlight, which uses the line as a detour if its normal route is closed.
If you haven't been there before, the loop can be tricky to find. Take the Keene exit from Highway 58 and turn north to Woodford-Tehachapi Road. A right turn here sends you in the right direction. Turn right and go about a mile to a spot where the road joins the tracks.
There are access points to tracks along the entire route, but be cautious. There's plenty of private property in the area, and trespassers are not welcome. A good (and safe) vantage point is the site of the Tehachapi Loop historical marker. Located roughly three-and-a-half miles from Keene on the left side of the road the marker proclaims the loop to be a California Registered Historical Landmark and a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark.
Weekends are the best time to ogle. Saturday is prime viewing time with up to 40 trains making the slow trek. They're also more spread out than on weekdays, when work traffic mandates windows of lesser activity.
A great source of information on these and other Tehachapi-area locations is the Tehachapi Chamber of Commerce 661-822-4180 or http://Tehachapi.com or a stie sponsored by the Tehachapi TOURISM COMMISSION at http://www.visittehachapi.com, and http://tehachapidepot.com.