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Cajon Pass

In the mountains northeast of Los Angeles, California is one of the premier train spotting locations, Cajon Pass (Pronounced “ka-HONE) on the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) railroad. Built in the early 1880’s, the line was a connection from Barstow to San Diego, between the San Bernardino and San Gabriel Mountains, following the San Andreas Fault line that divides the mountains and runs through Cajon Pass. Since 1905, the Union Pacific (UP) railroad has full service trackage rights over the BNSF line through Cajon Pass. The line sees a lot of daily activity, between 50 to 80 BNSF trains and 5 to 10 UP trains a day traverse the steep 2.2% grade through the mountains. Trains ascend at 14-22 MPH and descend at 20-30 MPH, which makes for great train watching. Originally Route 66 and later Interstate 15, follow a similar route through the mountains and provide views of the railroad line from the highway. The scenery in the Cajon Pass area is spectacular, with steep mountains and desert landscape. Uniquely shaped Joshua trees, a variety of yucca plant, are found in this region around Summit, California.

BNSF locomotives #6595, a GE ES44C4, and #976, a GE C44-9W lead a short intermodal train south past

MP 62.8 in Cajon. The intermodal train on the other track is beginning to head up the grade from Cajon to Summit.

While I was visiting California, I decided to take a railfan trip to see Cajon Pass and take a few photographs. The first stop for photographs was in Cajon just off of Interstate 15 at the Cleghorn Road exit. Cleghorn Road becomes Cajon Blvd. (W. Historic Rte 66) after it passes under I-15 and parallels the main line for a few miles as it heads downgrade towards San Bernardino. The sun was on the "wrong" side for good photos so I headed off to find a better location after photographing two trains passing each other in Cajon.

Lead by 5 GE locomotives, a BNSF Trailer on a Flat Car (TOFC) train heads northeast after passing though Cajon Pass.

Two UP locomotives #2670, a GE ET44AH, and #4016, a EMD SD70M, lead a train of empty well cars towards Cajon Pass.

Departing south from Hesperia, California, BNSF locomotive #7758, a GE ES44DC, along with three other

BNSF locomotives pull a long mixed freight train towards Summit and Cajon Pass.

Next I took the Highway 138 exit off of I-15 and headed northeast. The road eventually reaches Summit where the BNSF had a wye to turn their helper units in the days of steam locomotives. There is a pull off spot where you can see the trains snaking their way through the mountain pass. I continued on Hwy 138 to Summit Valley Road. This road parallels the tracks for a considerable distance and has numerous spots where you can stop to watch the trains. Finally, I reached Ranchero Road where the main line passes over the road. I returned back down I-15 where you can see the trains in the distance weave their way around Sullivan’s Curve and pass by Mormon Rocks.

BNSF locomotives #4237, a GE B23-7, and #5307, a GE C44-9W lead a train of empty well cars over the bridge for Ranchero Road.

Note the fire damage and replaced panels on locomotive #5307 resulting in two letter "F"s on the side.

Railroad photography is a real art form and one that I always appreciated, but I got a much better understanding of what rail photographers go through after trying to take a few photos of the trains through Cajon Pass. There are so many things to consider to get a “good shot”, from the background, to the sun angle and so many other factors too numerous to mention including when to take the photo, getting it all perfect is very difficult. In these days of heightened security, trespassing to get a good shot is not worth the risk and I always take photos from public property. I hope you enjoy the photos of my trip to Cajon Pass. If you enjoy seeing Class 1 main line railroading and are in the southern California area, taking a trip to see the trains running through Cajon Pass is well worth the effort, you won't be disappointed.

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