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Friday, April 12, 2013

Eccles Tunnel

Location of Eccles Tunnel (Courtesy Duncan Nanney)
Eccles Tunnel, formally SPC Tunnel #5 then later Tunnel #4 and sometimes known as the Zayante Tunnel, is a fairly well-known and easily accessed tunnel in Zayante Creek. This is partially because, of all the tunnels over the Santa Cruz Mountains, this is the only one to survive other than the Mission Tunnel in Santa Cruz City. Located north of Kenville Flag-Stop, the tunnel was originally built using redwood beams for both the supports inside and the portals around 1879 by the South Pacific Coast Railroad. It was rebuilt in 1907 after the San Francisco Earthquake and its interior and portals still retain that material, though it has been added to in recent years.

The tunnel measures a meager 240 feet, making it the shortest tunnel along the route. It is entirely concrete-lined, probably due to its length, and it measures 22 feet high and 17 feet wide.  The tunnel continued in service as a railroad tunnel until the winter of 1939-1940 closed the Mountain Route permanently.

The Atomic Vault facility on 1 February 1957
The backside of the Eccles Tunnel has seen better days,
but appears much more like a tunnel portal.
When H.A. Christie's railroad salvage firm pulled up the tracks and dynamited the other three longer tunnels along the route, the Southern Pacific Company requested that this small tunnel be saved. For thirteen years, the SPRC maintained the tunnel as a storage unit before finally selling it to Western States Atomic Vault Company (which was later purchased by FileSafe) in 1953. Under their guidance, the tunnel was modified to serve as a storage facility able to withstand nuclear assault and was renamed the Zayante Atomic Vault. The vault opened on 2 May 1954 and has remained in use for that purpose ever since. During the height of the Cold War, some of California's most important documents were stored in this tunnel, including the original journals of the State Legislature, the State Constitution, and microfilms of Spanish archives. Rumors also state that Walt Disney kept some of his earliest works stored in this archive.

Today, the tunnel can still be seen if walking along the old right-of-way north of Olympia or if one drives up Madrone Road past the Zayante Market. The entire area is surrounded by chain-linked fence but the overseer doesn't mind if people climb over the vault to get to the back end of the tunnel. The back end is also fenced off but appears much more like a railroad tunnel. The date, "1907," is still stamped over the high arch above the northern portal. The right-of-way then continues northward toward Meehan.

No known photographs of this tunnel during its existence as a railroad tunnel exist.

  • De Leuw, Cather & Company, "Santa Cruz-Los Gatos Rail Corridor Feasibility Study: Final Draft Report," prepared for the Joint Policy Board (December 1994). 


  1. Now I know where I'll go when the North Koreans lob a nuke over here. Zayante is obviously a high-value target.

  2. I lived at 164 Zayante School Rd in the 70's and walked this "Vault Rd" everyday to go see my friends up Zayante and finds my parents at the Club Z. I always wondered what the heck was inside that thing as I clammered over the top of it to get to one of the greatest rope swings I'll never forget. What a magical place on earth it was then........

    1. We currently live at 164 Zayante School Road. We bought the place in 1977. Were you the people we bought it from?

    2. I have been in the storage facility many times. My old company was a military contractor and I was the document control manager. We stored engineering records and other documentation. The walls were lined with cages that had government and private customers names on small plaques. Mostly crates, boxes and cabinets. Very interesting place.

  3. Ah...Zayante.

    "Living the Good Life at the End of the Alphabet!"