The Tehachapi Loop
A Railroad Engineering Marvel


What you are looking at

You are looking to the west, and downhill, towards Bakersfield California which is about 35 miles away. The track loops around the conical hill in the center of this panorama photo. The downhill part of the loop begins to the right of the smaller conical hill you see to the right of the photo. It passes behind the larger conical hill then curves toward you and passes through a tunnel on the left side of the photo. The tracks then loops around the conical hill, crossing over the tunnel on the causeway you see centered on the left side of the photo. The track again curves towards you at the base of the hill which I was standing when I took this photo.The track exits the scene on the right side of the photo, passes through another tunnel, and winds its way up the grade. I have included a satelitte image from Google Maps which will give you a bird's eye view of the loop. To the right angling from about the 3:00 position to the center you can see California Highway 58, a major truck route. At the bottom of the photo is a ranch and when I was there I could see cattle grazing on the hill.

About the Tehachapi Loop

In order to not have a grade steeper than the prefered 2% the railroad engineers built the track so that it loops over itself as it winds it way through the valley. The loop is about ¾ of a mile long and changes elevation about 80', there is one short tunnel. It was built in 1876 for the Southern Pacific Railroad and was designed by civil engineers Arthur De Wint Foote and William Hood. This is one of the busiest single track sections of railroad in the world, it provides a vital east-west rail link to and from the San Joaquin Valley. The track is now owned by the Union Pacific Railroad with which the Southern Pacific had merged.

Where is it?

It is just a few miles west of Tehachapi California, in Kern County and about 70 miles due north of downtown Los Angeles, click here for a Google Map. You can see it from the highway, Califronia 58, but stopping along that can be dangerous. There at two other options:

You can exit Hwy 58 at Broome Rd and go to the parking area on the north side. Look to the southwest and you will see the conical hill around which the track loops. However, from that location there is only a partial view at an oblique angle.

The best view is the one you can get from an overlook on Woodford-Tehachpi Rd. This necessitates getting off the highway and taking a side trip that may be about 6 miles or 15 miles depending on wether you come in from the east or the west. Coming from either direction on Woodford-Tehachapi Rd and you can get back on Hwy 58 by continuing on that direction; It is a detour not a spur.

Best time to see it?

Trains run through here periodocally day and night. From what I understand trains run more frequently during the weekday, but even on weekends and holidays you can see one if you are patient. Of course extreme weather conditions can damage the tracks or a train accident can stop rail traffic, so there are no guarantees.


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