Written by: TrainSim-James
Home Contributor Mitchel Thomas (Exp232) explores the world of lost railways, and the effect they have on today’s railroading empire, in a multi-part series, beginning with the Redlands Loop in Southern California
Lead image: 4-6-2 #1387 of the ATSF waits patiently at Redlands Station circa 1956, most likely the last passenger service on the line. Note the vintage semaphore signalling in place. Photo courtesy John Acosta.
Throughout the world, there are countless numbers of abandonned railway networks. In the past, these now neglected and deteriorating networks carried more freight and passengers than the car could ever hope to, not to mention planes. The vast expanses of rail that are now lost to time were once bloodlines of cities and towns alike, providing crucial transport for tonnes of goods and passengers. In this series of articles, I will delve into the railways that once existed in your own backyard, beginning with one that is on my own front porch; the Redlands Loop in Southern California.
Built throughout the Late 1800’s the Redlands Loop was a 27 mile branch line off of the Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe (ATSF) Railroad who ventured to serve the many Orange groves in the area. Fruit was one of the railroad’s most hauled commodities through the 1950’s in Southern California, and the ATSF wanted to provide a direct service to the plentiful groves in the Redlands and Highland areas, which quicked the travel times of a time-sensitive product. Thus, the Redlands Loop was born.
One of the many fruit packing plants serviced directly by the Redlands Loop. Photo taken in 2008, with the rail line long gone and the plant abandonned. Photo courtesy John Acosta.
During the 1930’s and 40’s, rail traffic heightened, peaking in the early 1950’s in the post-war booming economy. Although, this same boom would take a cruel turn and serve as the death-knell of the Loop. As time passed, land developers began buying the Orange groves to build housing for the large influx of people moving into the area, destroying the profits of the Redlands Loop. Passenger traffic also slowed after the advent of commonly owned autos, so ATSF decided to close the Northern Portion of the Loop from Highland Junction to Del Rosa, citing plummeting, freight traffic and rising maintenence costs. ATSF (Now Santa Fe) Passenger services ceased in 1956. In the 1970’s the line was again cut back to Patton, and soon after the Santa Ana River flooded, damaging an overhead trestle bridge. ATSF couldn’t justify the funds to repair the bridge, so the line suffered another closure back to Mentone. By the late 1980’s, the only portion to remain open was from a junction just east of San Bernardino Station (represented in the Cajon Pass Route) to Redlands Station.
Today, the San Bernardino-Redlands portion of the Loop is still operational, although it is currently not used by the current owner and ATSF successor, BNSF. Three stations on the Loop have also been able to stand the test of time, with Patton Station ceasing services in 1938 and sold into private hands 10 years later, and Highland Depot closed in 1962, sold, and moved close by to become a private residence.
Redlands Station is the only on the Loop to remain in railroad ownership. It stands as a Historical Monument in the center of downtown Redlands, and as a reminder of the cities past dependency on the crucial rail link to San Bernardino and beyond.
Patton Station when newly built in 1898, seen from track-side. The new brick station replaced a temporary wooden station built in 1893. Photo courtesy John Acosta.
Patton station in it’s current state, seen from opposite track-side, with a small warehouse added to accommodate a Farmer’s Market that occupied the building. Photo coutesy Mike Palmer.
Highland Depot seen in 1951. Note the Orange trees immediately behind the station and the Santa Fe Branding. Only the concrete stairs and foundation remain on the site today. Photo courtesy John Acosta.
Redlands Station in present day. The ca.1900’s interior is still mostly intact, although boarded up and closed to the public. The line continues on for about 1 mile until abrubtly ending underneath the Interstate 10 overpass. The line is barely maintained by BNSF and currently services no regular freight or passenger traffic. Any traffic at all is extremely rare.
There have been discussions of Metrolink (represented in TS2015 with the Los Angeles Commuter Rail Pack) gaining trackage rights on the Redlands portion remaining to begin a new service into Downrown, but as of yet nothing has come to fruition.
And so we conclude the first part of the Lost Railways Series. I would love some suggestions on where you think we should visit in the next installment. Is there an old abandonned line near you? Tell us about it!