Cajon Pass, Calif.

Southern California's busiest mountain crossing
Hot spot: Cajon Pass, California

Cajon Pass is profiled in Kalmbach's Guide to North American Hot Spots by TRAINS Senior Editor J. David Ingles.

Heavy mountain grade on BNSF Railway transcontinental (Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe) main line with separate rights-of-way for the north and south tracks (Tracks 1 and 2, respectively); Union Pacific operates ex-Southern Pacific Palmdale cutoff main line parallel to BNSF; UP trains also operate on BNSF route via trackage rights. There are two tunnels on BNSF north track (Track 1).

Main line, double-track CTC with helper locomotives and distributed power units (unmanned, at rear of train)

Typical motive power
All BNSF and UP main line road power.

Peak operating hours
Mornings are the traditional busy hours in Cajon. Amtrak's westbound Southwest Chief crosses the pass (on BNSF) at dawn, eastbound runs at night. There is often a string of eastbound intermodal trains over Cajon in the morning. Mondays and Tuesdays are often the lightest traffic days.

Approximate daily train frequency
BNSF: 50-80 trains; UP: 5 to 10 on UP's ex-SP Palmdale Cutoff

Radio frequcncies
BNSF: 161.190; UP: 160.320

Nearby points of interest
Tehachapi, another busy and very scenic, mountainous "Hot Spot" is 90 minutes away. Barstow, the site of a major BNSF yard, is 45 minutes north. The Orange Empire Railway Museum at Perris is an hour's drive south. Nearby San Bernardino is the eastern terminus of Metrolink commuter trains from Los Angeles.

There are many chain motels in San Bernardino, Ontario, Cucamonga, and Victorville. Fast food and gas are now available at the intersection of I-15 and SR 138, in the middle of the Cajon ascent.

For security reasons, the area at Summit, east of the public grade crossing along the BNSF is off limits to fans, but the hill overlooking Summit from SR 138 is public property, has plenty of room for parking, and still affords one of the best views of trains on both BNSF main lines.

Between Summit and Blue Cut, the railroad tracks are surrounded by public (U.S. Forest Service) land, and the dirt roads paralleling the ex-SP line are public USFS roads. To use these, you must purchase a Forest Service Adventure Pass for $5 a day or $30 annually, available at the gas stations at SR 138 and I-15. These forest service roads are generally well-maintained (except in wet weather) and are the easiest way to access some of the best-known photo locations in Cajon Pass.

The area of Cajon crossovers, where BNSF Tracks 1 and 2 diverge at I-15 and Cleghorn Road, a regular gathering point for railfans in the morning, does not require any off-pavement driving and affords close-up views of BNSF and UP trains, along with longer views of trains on the UP's Palmdale Cutoff.

Safety considerations
Park cars well clear of the railroad tracks, and be alert for off-road motorcycles on USFS roads in Cajon. Fire danger is high during summer months, so do not park your vehicle in tall grass, and extinguish all smoking materials. Snakes also are quite common in the hills around Cajon. Expect a train any time, anywhere, on any track.

Reference: "Trains on Location," June 1995 TRAINS

Contributor: David Busse
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