History of the Tehachapi Loop

  The single-track line, essentially unchanged; is still in constant use today, 122 years after its completion. It passes an average of 36 freight trains each day and attests to the superior job of both engineering and construction which was done by the two civil engineers. and the Chinese laborers. This plaque is dedicated to them.

 

  Throughout the course of the last year and a half, I have been researching and writing on the history of the high desert. What I found throughout the course of the last year and a half had been absolutely fascinating to me, as well as other readers. In the Eastern County area, one of the things that I came across was a history of the Tehachapi Loop. The following is what I found according to Wikipedia, the Tehachapi Pass Railroad Line, Going Round the Bend with the Tehachapi Loop, Tehachapi Loop History, and the Tehachapi Depot Railroad Museum is Reopening.

  The Tehachapi Loop is a 3,779-foot-long spiral, or helix on the Union Pacific Railroad Mojave subdivision through Tehachapi Pass at the Tehachapi Mountains in Kern County. The railroad line connects Bakersfield and the San Joaquin Valley to Mojave in the Mojave Desert. The Tehachapi Loop rises at a steady 2% grade and the tracks gain 77 feet in elevation, which makes the 1210-foot diameter circle; any train at least 3800 feet long passes over itself, going around the loop and at the bottom of the loop; the track passes through Tunnel 9, which is the 9th tunnel built as the railroad was extended from Bakersfield.

  One of the engineering feats of its day, the loop was built by Southern Pacific Railroad to ease the grade over Tehachapi Path; construction on the loop began in 1874, and the line opened in 1876. The siding of the loop is known as WaLong; after Southern Pacific District Roadmaster W. A. Long. The Tehachapi Loop project was constructed under the leadership of Southern Pacific civil engineers James R Strobridge and William Hood, using a predominantly Chinese labor force. The Tehachapi Line necessitated 18 tunnels, 10 bridges and numerous water towers to replenish steam locomotives and between 1875 and 1876, about 3000 Chinese workers equipped with little more than hand tools, picks, shovels and blasting powder cut through solid and decomposed granite to create the helix shaped 0.72-mile loop with grade averaging about 2.2% and an elevation gain of 77 feet, In 1882, the line was extended through Southern California and the Mojave Desert with 8000 Chinese men working under Strobridge and another man after both of the men came out of retirement after working on the Central Pacific Railroad. The loop became the property of Union Pacific in 1996, when the Union Pacific and Southern Pacific Systems merged; trains of the BNSF Railway also used the loop under trackage rights.

  Although Southern Pacific ran passenger trains on the loop for years, it banned passenger service soon after handing it trains to Amtrak in 1971 on the grounds that single track route would not be able to handle increased traffic from Amtrak trains. Union Pacific has maintained the ban since taking over Southern Pacific Railroad and as a result, Amtrak San Joaquin train is unable to directly serve Los Angeles however, Amtrak operates 3-way motor coach buses for passengers wanting to travel between the Central Valley and Los Angeles. An exception was made for the coastline Starlight, however, which uses the line as a detour if its normal route is closed. A large white cross called the Cross at the Loop stands at the top of a hill in the center of the loop in memory of two Southern Pacific Railroad employees who were killed on May 12th, 1989 in a train derailment in San Bernardino, Calif.

  On average, about 36 freight trains pass through the loop each day; passenger services such as Amtrak San Joaquin are normally banned from using the loop. The loops frequent trains and scenic settings make the Tehachapi Loop popular with railway fans. A museum called the Tehachapi Depot Museum is located in the town of Tehachapi and open for railway enthusiasts to get a glimpse of the history through photographs and newspaper clippings.

  The Tehachapi Loop has been declared a California Historical Landmark and the marker is located at an overlook viewing platform that was constructed and revitalized on Woodford-Tehachapi Road in the summer of 2021. This platform was built so that railroad enthusiasts can view trains on the loop while keeping a safe distance from the winding two lane roadway. The historical marker reads as follows: #508 Tehachapi Loop: from this spot may be seen a portion of the world-renowned loop completed in 1876 under the direction of William Hood, Southern Pacific Railroad engineer in gaining elevation around the Central Hill of the Loop; a 4000-foot train will cross 77 feet above its rear cars in the tunnel below.

  Another marker at the Tehachapi Loop Overview is the National Historical Civil Engineering Landmark from the American Society of Civil Engineers; it reads as follows: Tehachapi Pass Railroad Line: constructed 1874 to 1876 and commemorated in October 1998. In front of you, is the world-famous Tehachapi Loop, which is about halfway upgrade to Tehachapi Pass. The steep line averages 2.2% in gradient in its 28 miles of length. This feat of civil engineering genius was the crowning achievement of civil engineer William Hood of the Southern Pacific Railway Company. It is one of the seven wonders of the railroad world.

  The Tehachapi Pass Railroad Line was cut through solid and decomposed granite by up to 3000 Chinese laborers from Canton, China. They used picks, shovels, horse drawn carts and blasting powder. This line, which climbs out of the San Joaquin Valley and through the Tehachapi Mountains, laid 18 tunnels, 10 bridges and numerous water towers for the old steam locomotives. It was completed in less than two years' time, under the leadership of civil engineer JB Harris, chief of construction, which is remarkable feat. This line was part of the last and final link of the first railroad line connecting San Francisco to Los Angeles and was a primary factor in the early growth of the city of Los Angeles and the State of California.

 

 

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