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San Diego & Arizona Railway:

The Impossible Railroad


Reena Deutsch

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New Schedule for Desert Line repairs and test trains

Phase I     July 20, 2015 – March 1, 2016

Repairs and rehabilitation of approximately 9 miles of route between Coyote Wells and Plaster City in Imperial County.

Construction of an intermodal freight facility at Coyote Wells.

Freight from trucks coming in from Mexico will be transferred to PIR train to interchange with Union Pacific Railroad at Plaster City.


Phase I Test Train           No later than April 1, 2016.


Limited Operations Coyote Wells – Plaster City         No later than December 31, 2016.



Phase II    March 15, 2016 – April 15, 2017

Repairs and rehabilitation of approximately 60 miles of route between Division at the Mexican border to Coyote Wells in Imperial County.

Construction of an interchange freight facility at Division.

Freight from Baja California Railroad in Mexico will be interchanged with Pacific Imperial Railroad at Division.


Phase II Test Train          No later than May 15, 2017


Limited Operations Division – Coyote Wells               No later than August 15, 2017.



“Full Scale” Repairs        No later than December 21, 2017


“Full Scale” Operations  No later than 30 days after completion of Full Scale Repairs.


Mexico Update

The 44 miles of track in Mexico is in the process of being rehabilitated, funded by the Mexican government, the city of Tecate, and private investment. A great deal of progress has been made.


Tunnel 3 in Mexico, between Tecate and the border south of Campo, has been daylighted. Clearance of the tracks is still ongoing, although unstable hillsides have prolonged the job.


Special request

Do you have any photographs of the damage caused by Tropical Storm (Hurricane) Kathleen in 1976 or of repairs done to the line thereafter? A new slide show is being prepared about Hurricane Kathleen and its impact, particularly on the railroad and on Ocotillo in Imperial Valley, but also on other affected areas. If you have photos, documentation, or other information that you would like to share, please contact the author at Info  [[at]]  ImpossibleRailroad  [[dot]]  com. Thank you!


[This news is correct based on information available as of the date below. Status is subject to change but is updated only periodically.]

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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, 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 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. Repairs to clear collapsed Tunnel 3 are almost done, and the entire Mexican portion of the line is receiving a complete upgrade, including a new logistics facility in Garcia.


Campo-to-Division (border tunnel)

          Pacific Southwest Railway Museum passenger excursions are currently operating (psrm.org) and trips to Tecate may begin again in 2016.


Division-to-Plaster City

          Pacific Imperial Railroad (formerly Carrizo Gorge Railway) freight service on the Desert Line through Carrizo Gorge was temporarily stopped in 2008 due to failure to pass a bridge inspection. Major rehabilitation of the Desert Line is currently underway. Freight operations are expected to begin again on a limited basis starting December 31, 2016 (Coyote Wells to Plaster City only), and over the entire Desert Line August 15, 2017.


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 August 9, 2015