Historical Desert San Diego and Arizona Railroad

The Impossible Railroad and Carrizo Gorge


The railroad had to cross through extremely difficult territory.

The San Diego and Arizona Railroad opened the first modern line between San Diego and the East. The railroad was one of the most expensive ever built in the U.S., costing almost $19 million in 1919. In the Carrizo Gorge, the railroad crosses 14 trestles and goes through 21 tunnels in only 11 miles. From San Diego to El Centro, the railroad rises and falls over 3,700 feet. If ever there was a monument to a builder, the San Diego and Arizona Railroad speaks of the energy, skill and determination of John D. Spreckles and his men, the last of the great railroad builders.

Map of rail route


From the Sacatone Overlook in MaCain Valley you can view the Carrizo Gorge RR tracks
Train Tracks

Railroad Timeline

1873: Population of San Diego 5,000.

1887: Sugar millionaire John D. Spreckles sails to San Diego.

1907: Population of San Diego tops 35,000. Spreckles begins construction of railroad.

1911: Imperial County is created. Mexican Revolution.

1916: Heavy flooding.

1919: First passenger train from El Centro to San Diego.

1920: Avalanche in gorge.

1930: Population of San Diego reaches 148,000.

1932: A four-day fire collapses one tunnel, landslide closes another, a third destroyed by fire.

1940: Population of San Diego reaches 203,000.

1942: U.S. Army patrols railroad for saboteurs.

1951: Last passenger train.

1976: Hurricane Kathleen does heavy damage in Carrizo Gorge. Railroad almost abandons route.

1982: Line closed by storm damage.

1984: Line Closed.

2004: Line reopened, tunnel repaired. Started freight service to Plaster City.

2008: Line in operation. See Ride the Impossible Railway

2009: Tunnel 3 (Lindero) is damaged by a fire.

2011: Carrizo Gorge Railway, Inc (CZRY) discontinued operations of the Tijuana-Tecate segment by the end of 2011.

2012: The SD&AE entered into a 50 year operating lease with the Pacific Imperial Railroad company for freight trains. With this lease, the operating rights of CZRY ended.

2013: Plans in the works to get the trains back in operation.

Old railroad car off the tracks.

The two box cars over the side of the Gorge, north of Goat Canyon are SP box cars.
They are empty.
 Happened in the late 70s.


Water tower on the way to Ocotillo, CA.
Old water tower on the way to Ocotillo, CA

2014: No progess has been made and there are no operating trains.

2015: Pacific Imperial Railroad Announces Majority Ownership Transfer and the Appointment of CEO and President Arturo Alemany. MTS Board approves PIR’s Operational Plan by a 17-0 vote, to rehabilitate the Desert Line starting in Plaster City working eastward and constructing an intermodal terminal near Ocotillo to service the regional trucking need for an alternative connecting link to Union Pacific’s network to the east.

2017: No news as of 10/16.

2019 Still not in operation, talks are ongoing.

Other Related DesertUSA Resources

A Ride on the Impossible Railway
McCain Valley Resource Conservation Area
McCain Valley Recreation Area
The Buffalo Soldiers


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