Former SP Soledad Canyon Line

The Soledad Canyon line is the original Southern Pacific main line into Los Angeles, completed on September 5, 1876 when Charles Crocker, President of SP, hammered home the golden spike in a ceremony at Lang in the southern entrance to Soledad Canyon. This is the “B Line” of the SP (the overland is the “A” line and the coast line is the “E” line) and all milepost records for this line carry the prefix “B”.  This was not only the first SP route into Los Angeles, but the first main line to enter the city. Metrolink now owns the line, having resumed passenger service from Los Angeles to Santa Clarita in October, 1992. Following the highway disruption resulting from the January, 1994, earthquake, Metrolink service was hurriedly extended to Lancaster, its outer terminal in 2004. Shortly after extending the service to Lancaster a series of track and signal improvements was made to increase train speed and reliability. While the running times for the last SP and the first Metrolink passenger trains (Los Angeles to Lancaster) were identical (and about 20 minutes less than under steam in 1939) at 2 hours 20 minutes, after the “earthquake” improvements the running time was reduced to 1 hour, 45 minutes. The SP and now UP have continually operated the line for freight service, SP passenger service ended in 1971 when the San Joaquin Daylight was discontinued upon the formation of Amtrak.

This route covers the following subdivisions:

Mileposts were established in 1994 by Metrolink from zero at Los Angeles Union Station; original SP mileposts from San Francisco were highly disrupted by the 1994 construction. The line north of Burbank Junction is single track with passing sidings, operated by Centralized Traffic Control, from the Metrolink Dispatching Office in Pomona.

From CP Burbank Junction (MP 11.3, el. 584 ft.) to CP Brighton (MP 12.8) there is an 8000 ft. siding that gives the appearance of double track extending as far as the latter. In that span, Victory Place runs alongside the line to the west, with I-5 alongside to the east. San Fernando Road then passes under both freeway and railroad to emerge in the center of Victory Place, whose lanes then merge onto San Fernando Road. The latter follows along the west side of the railroad for many miles of northwestward heading. CP Brighton is immediately southeast of the Buena Vista Street road crossing, after which San Fernando Place runs alongside the tracks to the east. The line and both streets pass over Hollywood Way on separate bridges. There is a grade crossing at Arvilla Street, and signals at MP 14. There is another grade crossing at Sunland Boulevard, a detector at MP 15.1, the line passes the north end of the Burbank (Bob Hope) Airport runway and reaches the Sun Valley Metrolink station at MP  15.4. This has a platform on the east side of the track, and a parking lot across the street to the east.

At CP Penrose (MP 15.5, el. 810 ft.), the new (in 2003)  6,100 ft. Sun Valley siding begins, there is a grade crossing at Penrose Street, I-5 passes overhead on bridges, the line passes over Tuxford Street on a bridge, and the siding ends at CP Sheldon (MP 17.0), just south of the Sheldon Street grade crossing. A turnout to “nowhere” at Sheldon St. is intended (in 2003) for a future Vulcan Materials rock spur; it was constructed as a part of the new siding so as to avoid future disruption of the signals, street, and track. Just west of Sheldon is a set of spur tracks on the east side into the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power generating station. These tracks are usually idle, but are important for occasional movements of large and/or heavy generating equipment. The line crosses Tujunga Wash on a through girder bridge at MP 17.46. There is a detector at MP 17.9, Branford Street and Osborne Street have grade crossings, there are signals at MP 19 south of the Pierce Street road crossing adjacent to Whiteman Airpark, and the line crosses Van Nuys Boulevard at grade and passes spurs on the east side for Anawal T Lumber & Materials, the Pacomima Team Track, Price Phister Pipe & Brass, and Container Industries.

The line then crosses Paxton Street at grade, runs beneath the Route 118 bridges, passes the east side spur for Phillips Plywood Company, crosses over Pacoima Creek on another through girder bridge, and crosses Wolfskill Street, San Fernando, at grade. There are signals at MP 20, the 4,275 ft. San Fernando Passing Track on the east side, grade crossings at Brand Boulevard and Maclay Avenuea spur on the east side for Soutt Corp. Packaging, and a grade crossing at Hubbard Avenue (back in Los Angeles) before the Sylmar/San Fernando Metrolink station is reached. There are remnants of the old SP San Fernando passenger station platform near MP 21.3, el. 1,070 ft.; this is also the location of the long-abandoned interchange with the Pacific Electric San Fernando line (which survived as an isolated branch until the 1960s, using unique motive power including GE 44-ton and Whitcomb 6-axle units.)  The Sylmar/San Fernando station (MP 21.9)  also has a platform on the east side of the track, with an adjacent parking lot to the east.  This station is a very busy transit hub, with many bus lines connecting to Metrolink trains, and it has a child care center; “Transit Tots”.

There is a pedestrian crossing at Astoria Street and road crossings at Polk Street, Bledsoe Street and Roxford Street. A 7,500 ft. siding on the west side begins at CP Roxford (MP 23.6), with a spur for Spears Manufacturing on the east side and spurs for the department of Water & Power and the Metropolitan Water District on the west side, there are detectors on both tracks at MP 24.6, I-5 and connectors to I-210 pass overhead as does Balboa Boulevard, and the siding ends at CP Balboa (MP 25.3). To the southwest of the tracks are large Los Angeles Department of Water and Power electric switching yards and water treatment plants.  Northeast of the tracks the Los Angeles Aqueduct is visible on the mountainside. The line passes under I-5 again, with the main freeway lanes now on the west and the northbound truck lanes on the east.

There are more signals and a short spur at the old SP station point of “Tunnel”, just south of the Sierra Highway bridge, there is a bridge over a creek, the line curves north northeast under the Route 14 junction with I-5 and enters the south portal of 6,976 ft. tunnel 25 at MP 26.5. The original tunnel here was considered by Chief Engineer William Hood to be the most difficult section of railroad he built (including even the Sierra Nevada crossing) because of the soft rock and water contained in the sandstone formations. The tunnels on this line (Nos. 18, 19, and 25) carry the old SP B Line numbers, starting with Tunnel 1 near Caliente on the Tehachapi grade. The “missing” numbers are tunnels that were by-passed or “daylighted” in subsequent improvement projects.

The line emerges from the tunnel in a wooded valley in Newhall, with no road nearby. At CP Portal (MP 28.0,el. 1,400 ft.), the 11,100 ft. Newhall siding begins. A couple of easy curves later, Pine Street is alongside to the east, there is a private grade crossing for Calex Engineering Company and a short side track on the east side of the line. Los Angeles County’s William S. Hart park is located just west of the tracks; two of their most interesting exhibits are SP 2-6-0 No. 1635 (?) and the original Saugus station, a classic CS-22 two story depot painted in Colonial Yellow and Depot Brown.  The line crosses San Fernando Road, after which Railroad Street is alongside the line to the west, and Market Street at grade, and then reaches the Jan Heidt Metrolink station in Newhall (MP 30.0 el. 1,276 ft.). This station, named for one of Metrolink’s first Board members, has platforms on both tracks, with its main parking area south of the station on the west side of the line. There is a pedestrian crossing at 11th Street, where Railroad Street merges into San Fernando Road which then follows the west side of the track. The siding ends at CP Hood (MP 30.2), named for the former Chief Engineer, where there is a bridge over Newhall Creek. There is a grade crossing at 13th Street and a bridge over Placerita Creek.

There is a detector at MP 31.0, Valley Canyon Road passes over both San Fernando Road and rail line on a bridge, the lines turns almost due north and there is a grade crossing at Oak Ridge drive. As of 2003-04 Metrolink is engaged in a project to smooth the two curves here so as to increase the speed from 45 MPH to 55 MPH. There is a fenced off siding where the original Metrolink layover tracks were located, at MP 32.3, now occupied by a motley collection of privately-owned cars, most former Amtrak. A 4,930 ft. siding begins at CP Saugus (MP 32.4, el. 1,172 ft.), just north of the Drayton Street grade crossing, with spurs to the east for Corral Storage, Terry Lumber, Hasa Chemical Company, and Keysor Century Corporation, before the railroad line makes a sweeping turn from north to southeast at the intersection of Bouquet Canyon Road (as San Fernando Road has become) and Soledad Canyon Road on the south side of the Santa Clara River across from Saugus. The Santa Paula line (from Montalvo on the Coast Line) once joined from the west at CP Saugus. There are a lumberyard and a chemical plant that receive daily service from the UP “Saugus Local”.

With the line now running up the hillside on the south side of Soledad Canyon Road, the siding ends at CP Canyon (MP 33.4). The original (1876) SP line here was along the shore of the Santa Clara River, it was abandoned in the 1890s in favor of the present location, above danger from flooding. This pattern of relocation is repeated throughout the route to Vincent, with the rail line being periodically relocated to reduce exposure to flooding and/or to increase track speed and reduce curvature. The original alignment closely followed the river, crossing it 17 times. By the time the SP repaired flood damage from the March, 1938, storms, the alignment had been refined to the point that there was (and is) only one bridge across the river (near Tunnel 19). It is a challenging section of railroad to maintain because there are practically no flood control measures in this watershed. 

Almost a mile to the east is the Santa Clarita Metrolink station (MP 34.2), up against the hillside adjacent to the Saugus Raceway (now a swap meet site, once an auto race track).  At this point, the line curves around to come directly alongside the south side of Soledad Canyon Road as both head directly east. There are grade crossings at Golden Oak Road, Ruether Avenue, and Rainbow Glen Road, after which both line and road turn southeast to follow the course of the river. The road then turns east and crosses the river while the line stays on the south side. Whites Canyon Road crosses the river and then the railroad line on a steeply graded bridge. The Via Princessa Metrolink station (MP 37.9) is just east of the bridge, where the line turns east. This station has a platform on the north side of the line with the parking lot on the south side. Just east of the station is a Weyerhaeuser warehouse with a spur to the south side of the track, which is the furthest industry regularly served by the UP Saugus Local.

Sierra Highway crosses overhead on a bridge. Canyon Park Boulevard crosses at grade at the same place as a 7,392 siding starts (CP Honby, MP 38.6, el. 1,284 ft.). The siding here is the former SP main track, as a part of the “earthquake” improvements in 1994 a higher speed new main track with much less curvature was built, the by-passed old main line was later (1997) configured as a siding when CTC was completed. Both tracks pass under Route 14. The line turns northeast and then roughly east again, up on the hillside on the south side of the river valley. The siding, which comprises a remnant of the much curvier old location of the line that strays well away from the newer, straighter, main, ends at CP Humphreys (MP 40.0, el. 1,488 ft.), after which the line crosses over Lost Canyon Road, Sand Canyon Road, and Oak Springs Canyon Road on bridges. There is  a detector at MP 41.5.

Until September 25, 2011, Lang siding began at CP Lang, MP 43.1 and extended 5015 feet to CP Soledad at MP 44.2. From September 25, 2011, Lang siding, on the south side, extends 13,300 ft., from CP Lang (MP 41.6) to CP Soledad (MP 44.25), maximum speed 20 mph on the turnouts and siding. Lang, el. 1,683 ft., is the site of the 1876 golden spike ceremony, with a state historical marker placed in 1957 commemorating the event. The line crosses Lang Station Road, which today leads to a Vulcan Rock Products facility (formerly Gillibrand Industries) on the south side of the track.

Beyond the Vulcan facility, the line crosses over a culvert on a bridge, as it follows the south side of the Santa Clara River. At CP Soledad (MP 44.3), the siding ends and single track resumes. The canyon between CP Soledad and CP Kocian is quite narrow, and twists and turns along the course of the river. Almost a mile to the railroad west (geographic east)  of CP Soledad, the line crosses the river on a girder bridge and immediately enters 328 ft. Tunnel 19 (MP 45.0). Half a mile further on, the line passes through 266 ft. Tunnel 18 (MP 45.5). Along this entire stretch, Soledad Canyon Road is on the north side of the track, on the north side of the canyon. Between the tunnels the river is flanked by a concrete levee, a portion of which washed out in the 1998 “El Nino” storms. At Agua Dulce Canyon Road, Soledad Canyon Road turns south momentarily and crosses over the tracks on a concrete arch bridge, after which the track is on the north side of the canyon and the road on the south, with many trees on what little valley floor exists between them. There are signals not far to the north of the road bridge. At various locations in the canyon bridge abutments and remnants of the earlier track alignments are visible from the trains. For the next six miles the railroad follows the twists and turns of the canyon; speeds range between 30 and 45 MPH, depending upon the curvature. The sharpest curves have been converted to concrete ties and numerous curve lubricators have been installed to reduce wear on rail and wheels; nevertheless, this is a difficult piece of track to maintain and most years see replacement rail installed on some of the curves. There were no “earthquake” improvements to alignment or speed in this territory because new embankments would have impacted the river.

Between mileposts 46.5 and 48.3 the subgrade of the old Russ siding (el. 2,016 ft.) is visible to the south of the tracks; Metrolink has proposed to reconstruct this siding if traffic levels increase significantly.  At MP 51.6 the Shimbala game preserve is visible south of the river.  This is a “retirement home” for movie animals; it is not unusual to see lions, tigers, or elephants from the train.

At MP 52.1 Soledad Canyon Road again crosses the canyon and crosses over the track on a bridge and comes alongside the line, but further up the hillside. At CP Ravenna (MP 52.4, el. 2,458 ft.), the 6,760 ft. Ravenna siding begins, extending to CP Kocian (MP 53.9), “Co-she-Ann”, named for a retired SP Roadmaster from Texas who worked on the “earthquake” projects in 1994). Bootlegger Canyon Road grade crossing is between the two, along the stretch of two tracks (main and siding). North of CP Kocian the old SP alignment was improved and train speeds increased in 1994. Crown Valley Road splits off from Soledad Canyon Road and runs nearer to the track, remaining on the north side. There is a grade crossing at Thousand Trails Campground, after which the line bridges over Crown Valley Road and runs along its north side. There are intermediate signals along the line, after which Crown Valley Road crosses the line at grade near the community of Acton. This is the site of the old siding of Paris, el. 2,767 ft., once known as Berlin (the old SP Right of Way maps show “Berlin” crossed out, probably in one of the World Wars). After a road intersection, Soledad Canyon Road resumes following the north side of the line. There are more intermediate signals, Aliso Canyon Road crosses at grade from the south, and there are yet more intermediate signals. The alignment was improved from 30 to 75 MPH between MP 60 and 61, the original embankment is visible to the north.

At CP Quartz (MP 60.8), the 6,080 ft. Vincent siding begins. Vincent Grade-Acton Metrolink station (MP 61.6) has a platform on the north side of the line (only) and western-themes buildings. The parking lot is also on the north side of the track. The siding ends at CP Crest (MP 62.1), the summit (3222 feet) of this route. During steam operations the SP maintained a wye track and train order office here, the wye crossed the old highway about ¼ mile east of the present station. The original operation here under SP and early Metrolink was a segment of Double Track with spring switches at each end,  until Metrolink installed CTC. It is also the place where the line leaves the Santa Clara River Valley and enters the Mojave Desert, dropping steeply (2.4%) downgrade towards Palmdale, albeit still heading geographically east. The single line passes under the Angeles Forest Highway bridge, and a little further east makes a sweeping curve to the north and passes under the Pearblossom Highway bridge. This long curve was broadened in 1994 to increase speed from 35 to 50 MPH. As the line straightens out to the north, it crosses over an inverted siphon for the California Aqueduct and comes parallel to Sierra Highway. A little further north, the line crosses the road at grade, and they run alongside one another in the reverse order.

Barrel Springs Road crosses the line on the west side of Sierra Highway; there are more intermediate signals, and a high-wide detector at MP 65.9. This detector is the mate to the one in Glendale; they are to protect the tunnels from oversized loads. This is the San Andreas Fault Zone; the topography along the tracks is eroded and plain, however the road cuts for the Antelope Valley Freeway just up the hill expose radical folding of strata deflected by the fault. This is also the site of old Harold siding, and Lake Una, filling a local depression caused by the fault. Entering Palmdale, Avenue S crosses the line at grade.

At CP Harold (MP 67.5, el. 2,824 ft.), the UP Colton-Palmdale Cutoff line comes across Sierra Highway on a bridge and comes alongside the Metrolink line on the east side of the latter as both continue due north. From here north to Lancaster Metrolink constructed a parallel track (with concrete ties) in 1994 on a separate strip of the right of way that was purchased in 1992. This line was very easy to design, the contractor was simply told to build the new track 20 feet west of the SP track and at the same elevation, no blueprints needed! (Grade crossings did require considerable engineering to sort out the utilities and street alignment for the second track.)  CP Harold is the location of a crossover from the Metrolink line to Palmdale Junction (MP 414.4, el. 2,657 ft.) on the UP line, the only connection between the two adjacent parallel lines, which share road crossings and bridges between this location and Lancaster Boulevard. There is a grade crossing at Avenue R. The faded blue building on the east side of the tracks is the UP Roadmaster’s office where it is common to see carloads of company material on the nearby spur track. Next the line crosses Palmdale Blvd, and City Hall is visible to the east. To the west is a drainage ditch that Metrolink had to move to construct the new track in 1994, followed by the site of the new (2005) Palmdale Station. North of the construction site Sierra Highway crosses the tracks at grade to attain their west side, and continues running parallel to them thereafter. There are signals on the UP line at the Sierra Highway crossing.

Rancho Vista Boulevard (formerly Avenue P) crosses at grade at MP 412.2. There are Metrolink signals at MP 71, with UP signals adjacent to their east. Between mileposts 71 and 72, Air Force Plant 42 dominates the view to the east, first with large assembly buildings, then with an enormous runway. This is where the B-2 bombers were assembled and made their test flights. A quick look around these buildings may reveal NASA U-2s or other exotic aircraft. At MP 410.9 on the UP line, 8,350 ft. Denis siding begins, and at MP 409.2 (el. 2,549 ft.) the siding ends, just south of the Columbia Way road crossing. There are Metrolink signals just north of that road crossing. Avenue L crosses over both the lines and Sierra Highway on a bridge. There are Metrolink signals at CP Bonita (MP 75.0), a grade crossing at Avenue K, UP signals at MP 406.1 (named “[South] Lancaster”), Avenue J crosses the lines at grade; there are Metrolink signals and switches at CP Sierra (MP 76.1), to a single storage track. The Metrolink line enters the Lancaster Metrolink station at MP 76.6, with depot and parking lot to the west of the tracks (and the east side of Sierra Highway). This depot is also the local Greyhound terminal.  The Metrolink line ends at buffer posts on both platform line and adjacent siding immediately south of the Lancaster Boulevard grade crossing on the still adjacent UP line which continues northward alone.