California quakes shift tracks on desert short line; repairs expected to take at least a week

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TronaRailway
Trona, Calif.
Federal Railroad Administration Safety Map; TRAINS: Steve Sweeney
LOS ANGELES — Trona Railway officials are still surveying damage to the company's track and structures from back-to-back earthquakes July 4 and 5, but officials tell Trains they are already looking at a serious track displacement of about three feet on their main line a few miles south the headquarters at Trona, Calif.

At 6.4 and 7.1 magnitudes, the July 4 and 5 quakes in California's Searles Valley, near Trona, were the largest to strike California in more than two decades. Damage to the towns of Trona and nearby Ridgecrest were significant. Trona, home to the Trona Railway, was the hardest hit, with fissures opening up in access roads, and electricity and water service both being shut.

Railroad officials tell Trains that they will be inspecting their yard tracks and the rest of the main over the next few days. Preliminary estimates for repairs are at a week, with the railroad hoping to begin running again by next Monday, July 15. The accuracy of this estimate will be determined by whether inspectors find additional damage or if new earthquakes cause further damage.

The railroad’s extremely remote location is likely the reason the quake did not do more damage or kill area residents. The famed 1994 Northridge Quake in the heart of Los Angeles was 6.7 and killed 57 people. It shut down major transportation arteries for months. The 1989 Loma Prieta Quake near San Francisco was a 6.9 that killed 63 and resulted in the demolition of two major freeways. To have a 6.4 and a 7.1 hit back to back like this and not result in such extreme devastation is a facet of the small population and isolated location.

The Trona Railway hauls soda ash, potash, coal, and minerals to and from a connection with the Union Pacific in the middle of the Mojave Desert at Searles. The
short line runs a fleet of 1970s-era former Southern Pacific and Union Pacific SD40 locomotives in their former owners’ paint schemes.
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