Railfan access to Cajon Pass still limited following 2016 wildfires

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A westbound BNSF stack train traverses the security area at Summit, as seen from the old state Route 138 pull-off in April 2014. This vantage point will change with the ongoing road work.
Two photos, Brian Schmidt
SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. – It’s been almost a year since a nasty brush fire originating on the Blue Cut area scorched much of California’s Cajon Pass in August 2016, causing the U.S. Forest Service to declare much of the public land in the pass “closed to public access.” The closure was expected to last 24-36 months and is “standard procedure” on public lands following major fires.

Forest Service spokesman John Miller says that closure is still under active study by Forest Service biologists, and following last winter’s heavy rainfall, indications are that “reforestation” has been jump-started. Lifting the closure will be done after biologists declare the new growth as robust. No guesses yet as to what that might mean, time-wise, but Miller says biologists are optimistic.

The closure is of great interest to railfans because most of the “classic” areas of the pass, popular for photography and train watching, are Forest Service land, open to public access on foot or motorized vehicle, and several of the most-used railroad access roads are public property, not the railroad’s.

Miller says the main goal of the closure is to prevent off-road enthusiasts from creating “new trails” in the burn area, preventing reforestation and causing the denuded landscape to be dangerously unstable during winter rains.

The Pacific Crest Trail bisects the pass at Sullivan’s Curve. The Pacific Crest trail is open, and intrepid rail fans can still access the curve area on foot, from the trailhead at the end of Wagon Train Road, just south of the state Route 138 exit on Interstate 15. It is an easy, scenic hike, about 3 miles round-trip. Bring plenty of water. And there are many photographic vistas attainable from paved roads without encroaching on the closure.

Speaking of Route 138, that highway is open, but is undergoing a massive widening and straightening project in Cajon Pass. The road is still open during construction, but grading and new highway alignment near Summit will drastically change a popular railfan photo perspective. The new road will still offer access to the side access roads, which, after the closure is lifted, will continue to serve as important routes for railfan photographers.

Caltrans says the road project will eliminate a curvy, flash-flood prone stretch of Route 138 and allow for faster evacuation of the area during emergencies. Local residents say it may be a prelude to projected residential growth in the once-pristine Summit Valley, the east side of the Pass. Forest Service ownership of adjacent land ends in the Summit area. The storied west side of the Pass will remain undeveloped, but next generation of rail fans may be observing the east side of Cajon becoming a rail line bisecting tracts of homes and shopping centers.
A Union Pacific freight chases the end of a BNSF stack train near Hill 582 on the west side of Cajon Pass in April 2014. This famous railfan spot is still accessible in spite of the widespread closure of public lands in the area.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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