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San Diego & Arizona Railway:

The Impossible Railroad


Reena Deutsch

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Pacific Imperial Railroad is in Chapter 11 bankruptcy and is currently in the process of selling all assets, including the right to operate freight on the Desert Line (between the Mexican border south of Campo to Plaster City).  Baja California Railroad, the current freight operator in Mexico, has been approved by SD&AE Railway owners MTS and the bankruptcy court to acquire the rights to operate on the Desert Line. At some point in time, Baja Rail will begin repairing and upgrading the infrastructure on the Desert Line, including through Carrizo Gorge, and is (eventually) expected to run freight all the way between the border north of Tijuana to Plaster City/El Centro.


A priority of Baja Rail will be to complete repairs at the site of former Tunnel 3 – it partially collapsed in 2009 from a fire and that tunnel was more recently daylighted… it no longer exists.


Once the route between Tecate and Campo is open, it is expected that the Pacific Southwest Railway Museum in Campo will resume its popular rail excursions to Tecate.



It has been reported that Tunnel 16 in Carrizo Gorge, previously blocked by a fire-caused partial collapse during the eighteen year period between 1986 and 2004, has recently become blocked again as a result of boulders coming loose from above by heavy and frequent Winter 2016-2017 rain storms. This is not verified, though.



[This news is correct based on information available as of the date below. With this “Impossible Railroad,” everything is subject to change but 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.


To read some reviews for the book, click here. Please notify the author of others.


To order the book, please click here.


Impossible Railroad lectures, slide shows, booksignings, and field trips are currently being scheduled. Click here to view upcoming events.


Click here to see a list of previous events.


If your group or organization is interested in hosting a booksigning, slide show, lecture, or other book-related program, please see Presentations.



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….)

·    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.



          Baja California Railroad freight service is currently operating. A multi-modal logistics facility was constructed in Garcia recently.


Campo-to-Division (border tunnel)

          Pacific Southwest Railway Museum passenger excursions are currently operating (psrm.org), and the museum continues to offer special holiday-themed excursions during October-December.


Division-to-Plaster City

          Except for museum trips as described above, not much is happening.


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 9, 2017