Freight Car Friday – Railroads of San Diego

8 02 2013

As we make our way to San Diego this week, let’s take our first look at some of the great railroads that have called California home. The city’s first railroads arrived in 1866. The first lines were smaller short lines which brought goods arriving by ship inland and carried produce and other products back from the local region to the coast. Among other things, the geography and topography of the surrounding region kept larger projects at bay for many years.

While San Diego had hoped to capitalize on the construction of the Panama Canal and become the country’s premier west-coast port, these natural barriers drove the major shipping lanes further to the north. While it never became the major freight hub it planned, the city remains an important and busy center for both freight and passenger rail traffic.

California Southern

curved map

Santa Fe reefers were a common sight in and around San Diego. The city, and its northern connection to the transcon, can be seen on the famous “map cars.”

The California Southern actually entered the city from the north. The line, backed by the Santa Fe, commenced operations in 1882 between National City and Oceanside. In 1885, the railroad completed its link with the Santa Fe’s transcontinental mainline.

Construction of the surf line along the coast shortened the route between San Diego and Los Angeles and provided a scenic highlight for travelers. Today this route continues to host Amtrak and Coaster commuter trains along with BNSF freight traffic.

The Santa Fe station downtown continues to serve as a major travel center and an architectural landmark for the city.

San Diego and Arizona


Southern Pacific’s round-about route provided a tenuous but more direct link to the east.

The San Diego and Arizona was conceived as a connection to the transcontinental mainline of the Southern Pacific, giving the city direct access to the east-west line as opposed to diverting trains to the north. It was a relatively late link in the transcontinental construction movement. The charter was created in 1906 and construction wasn’t complete until 1919.

San Diego had been the proposed destination of the Texas and Pacific. But with its construction halted with a connection with the SP in western Texas, this new route became the next key link in that chain.

The Southern Pacific provided much of the funding to the company. Labeled the “Impossible Railroad,” construction and maintenance was exceedingly expensive. Adding to the complications was the fact that the railroad crisscrossed the U.S. – Mexico border. The railroad became part of the SP in 1932. It was renamed the San Diego & Arizona Eastern. SP operated the line until 1976, when natural disasters and vandalism closed portions of the line.

Today portions of the line survive as both commuter rail and local freight operations run by Rail America and the Pacific Imperial Railroad.



One response

8 02 2013

Thank you for providing information on the rail lines its a big help.

I use the information as a learning tool for my 2 younger kids to teach spelling and how to locate cities on a map.

My son(the younger kid) loves rail lines SP and Santa Fe and UP are 3 of his favorites.

Over the Holiday we picked up a Hoseshoe Curve set combined with a video we picked up out of the library and that has been a great learning tool. That locomotive has the best railsounds even my wife commented it was “pretty cool” !!!! My son hooked up a lot of boxcars and that engine pulled them all!!!!! Lionel keep it coming you are all wonderful folks.

Have you thought of selling Tenders? We run my Dad’s 1951 Hudson and would like a Tender with sounds like that Horseshoe curve. Is there a kit we can install in the Tender??


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