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San Diego & Arizona Railway:

The Impossible Railroad


Reena Deutsch

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CURRENT NEWS about the SD&AE Desert Line (as of 4/27/2020)

Baja Railroad (BJRR) has been running freight in Mexico for several years, interchanging with San Diego and Imperial Valley Railroad at the San Ysidro Mexican/USA border and servicing Tijuana, Tecate, and points in between.  Pacific Imperial Railroad went bankrupt and BJRR has purchased all of PIR’s assets.


On September 21, 2017, a 99-year lease and operating agreement for Desert Line freight service was signed between BJRR and San Diego’s Metropolitan Transit Service, the owner of the USA portions of the line between San Diego and Plaster City.  Currently the freight operators pay MTS $500,000 semi-annually.


There is much work to be done to repair or replace many of the trestles/bridges and ensure tunnels and track are in the condition required by the Federal Railroad Administration.  It is not currently known what the status is for meeting required milestones.


While BJRR passenger service is not likely, once repairs and upgrading of the infrastructure on the Desert Line are completed, it is expected that Spreckels’ entire line, including through Carrizo Gorge, will once again be open to freight operations all the way between San Diego and El Centro.


Hiking, biking, and riding any vehicle on or along the tracks or anywhere throughout the entire SD&AE Railway right-of-way remains illegal, including on the spectacular Goat Canyon Trestle.


Tunnel 16 in Carrizo Gorge, previously blocked by a fire-caused partial collapse during the eighteen-year period between 1986 and 2004, became blocked again as a result of boulders coming loose from above by heavy and frequent Winter 2016-2017 rain storms.  Fortunately, this tunnel immediately east of the Goat Canyon Trestle is only blocked at the east portal and not totally collapsed.



[This news is correct based on information available as of the date below. With this “Impossible Railroad,” everything is subject to change but this website is updated only periodically. Current operational status along the entire SD&A original route is detailed below.]

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The book was released in January 2011. It describes the dramatic ups and downs of construction and operation of the John D. Speckels’ San Diego & Arizona (Eastern) Railway, covering the time period from surveys in the early 1900s to date of publication. The story is told in narrative form linked with more than 200 vintage photographs and other unique images.


Natural and other diasters that persistently afflicted the line are a continual thread throughout the chronicle, and the remote and breathtaking arid desert canyon of Carrizo Gorge is featured. Descriptions of challenges and triumphs faced by the SD&A(E) are highlighted as the story unfolds.


The last chapter in the book brings the SD&A(E) story current up to the date of publication, and this website will post occasional updates since then. The book descriptively and pictorially sorts out the complicated tangle of public and private entities that have been and still are involved with the line in recent and contemporary times.


A portion of author royalties are donated to the Pacific Southwest Railway Museum Association located in La Mesa and Campo, CA.


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To order the book, please click here.


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Click here to see a list of previous events.


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Author: Reena Deutsch, Ph.D.

Table of Contents:

          Chapter 1  Construction

          Chapter 2  Carrizo Gorge

          Chapter 3  Operations Pre-1932

          Chapter 4  1932           [Note that 1932 earned its own chapter!]

          Chapter 5  Operations Post-1932

          Chapter 6  Trolleys, Freight, and Tourists (Yes, the railroad is still in operation and, after 20 years of being blocked, Carrizo Gorge was cleared in 2004 and operations resumed over the entire 148 miles of the route! Current operational status is detailed below.)


The book contains images, such as:

·    SD&A hero  John D. Spreckels

·    Construction activity both north and south of the Mexican border

·    1911 Mexican revolutionaries boarding a hijacked SD&A train

·    Tunnels galore

·    Intricate trestles and bridges

·    Fascinating engineering drawings and maps

·    The 1919 gold spike ceremony

·    Inspiring steam and diesel locomotives

·    Other rolling stock and maintenance-of-way vehicles, including velocipedes

·    Passenger and freight trains

·    Depots

·    Awesome views of Carrizo Gorge in the desert and Mexico

·    Construction of the landmark Goat Canyon Trestle in Carrizo Gorge

·    Scenes filmed in the Gorge for movies

·    A wreck or two (or three….), including the legendary “Coors wreck!”

·    Collapsed tunnels

·    Flood damage to the railroad and its infrastructure (sort of a recurring theme)

·    Fire damage to the railroad and its infrastructure (ditto)


Many photographs in the book have never been published before. Some are absolutely incredible!


The  SD&A: The Impossible Railroad  book is printed on 100% Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified paper that is made and manufactured entirely in the United States. FSC-recognized products are independently certified that they come from forests that are managed to meet the social, economic and ecological needs of present and future generations.


If you find any errors or have any comments related to the San Diego & Arizona Railway: The Impossible Railroad book, the author would be delighted to hear from you at

                             Info  [[at]]  ImpossibleRailroad  [[dot]]  com




San Diego-to-San Ysidro

          San Diego trolley passenger service is currently operating.

          San Diego and Imperial Valley Railroad freight service is currently operating. Also, freight operations continue on the branch line to El Cajon.


San Ysidro-to-Tecate

          Baja California Railroad freight service is currently operating.


Tecate-to Division (border tunnel)

          No rail service is operating.



          No rail service is operating.


Campo-to-Plaster City (including Carrizo Gorge)

          No rail service is operating.


Plaster City-to-El Centro

          Union Pacific freight service is currently operating.



Special to folks who read this far…

          Click on the link here if you would like to see interesting trivia related directly or indirectly to the Impossible Railroad.




Last updated April 27, 2020