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Friday, April 12, 2013

Laurel Trestle

Location of trestle at bottom. (Courtesy Duncan Nanney)
Skirting Burns Creek and eventually crossing it immediately before the Summit Tunnel's south portal, the right-of-way north of Laurel supported many hillside trestles. These partial trestles, generally supported on one side by a hill and the other by redwood support beams, still remain along the right-of-way in Laurel Canyon. This region is rather unique because of these trestles. Despite sharp turns and narrow passages elsewhere along the route, the only other evidence of hillside trestles are really found along Bean Creek in Glenwood, and there they are used only sparsely and are fairly short. The hillside trestles in Laurel Canyon, on the other hand, are quite long and often completely remove the tracks from the ground, constituting a true trestle. A photograph of this route in broad gauge times demonstrates the extreme usage of these hillside trestles:

Hillside trestles in Laurel Canyon. (Bruce MacGregor)
Select other locations along the Mountain Route, specifically the beautiful arched cement hillside trestle near Inspiration Point, also utilized this type of trestle, but it was relatively rare along the route.

However, despite these trestles, it was only where the right-of-way was forced to cross Burns Creek, a tributary of Soquel Creek, that the Laurel Trestle, sometimes known as the Burns Creek Trestle, was required.

Laurel Trestle soon after construction, 1882.
(Bruce MacGregor)
Laurel Trestle sat directly in front of the south portal of Summit Tunnel. When it was first constructed in 1878 to allow access to the Summit Tunnel for construction, the bridge was made entirely of local redwood timbers. Burns Creek was never a very deep creek in this region and, as an early 1882 photograph shows, the creek nearly touched the bottom of the trestle. In later years, the creek was likely dredged to keep the water off of the tracks. As it sits today, in ruins, the trestle measures about 15 feet above the bottom of the creek.

It is unknown precisely when this bridge was reconstructed to support broad gauging, though it was certainly broad-gauged by 1907 when the entire line was refitted. The later design likely dates from around 1903 when preparations were being made prior to the 1906 Earthquake. Oddly, no published work seems to document the history of this trestle despite its frequent use in railroad books. It only merits a passing mention in the "Santa Cruz-Los Gatos Rail Corridor Feasibility Study". It's length, unfortunately, was unknown due to these oversights.

Laurel Trestle and Summit Tunnel south portal, c. 1910s.
(Bruce MacGregor)
What can be said about the trestle from documentary evidence is that it always had guard rails along its sides, though the reason for these is unknown. The trestle was a single-width trestle and, unlike most other tunnel exits, there was no siding anywhere near the tunnel's portal or the trestle. The area today is heavily wooded but during much of its existence, as evidenced above, it was in a clearing created by logging operations in the area. The underside of the trestle was made up of two rows of five redwood pillars with additional support pillars near the end foundations. No concrete was used.

Laurel Trestle and surrounding area, February 29, 1940. (Courtesy Bruce MacGregor)
The trestle itself was relatively unscathed by the 1939-1940 storm season, but the surrounding area was a mess. The photograph above shows a tower of some sort beside the tunnel, though the purpose of this tower is unknown. The entire Mountain Division was shut down later in 1940 due to damage such as this along the route. The bridge was pulled in 1942 by H.A. Christie's railroad salvage firm, though the support pillars remain in Burns Creek to this day. These final two photographs are of those support pillars:

Northern support pilings for Laurel Trestle, overgrown and pushed upward by roots, 2011.
Bridge support beams for Laurel Trestle in Burns Creek, looking south, 2011.


  1. I missed the appropriate reply area last time, sorry about that. I don't have a picture of a tunnel repair car available, but the light wood scaffold
    in the Feb. 1940 Laurel Trestle photo looks very much like the car that used
    to be located at the south end of the former tunnel #5. The scaffold is set
    on small flanged wheels and as relatively lightweight MOW equipment does not
    require a siding to store it. Like track speeders or tool cars, tunnel cars
    are set out on two rails at right angles to the main track and when needed
    are hauled on to it with plenty of muscle power and creative language. The
    SCBT&P track crew thinks that the tunnel car now located near the north end
    of the Mission Hill tunnel is the same one that used to be at tunnel #5,and
    is typical of the others used on the line, providing a movable platform inside a tunnel for repair and replacement of the wood framing.

    1. Oh right, you mentioned the Mission Tunnel car before. I think I've got a photo of that somewhere so I'll have to check it. It would make sense if the old Inspiration Point Tunnel's tunnel repair car was moved since that tunnel was collapsed in the mid-1990s and it is no longer needed there. I'll have to do a bit more research to compare, but thanks for the information. If you have any other insights at all, feel free to write them (on the appropriate post ;-) ).

  2. the last photo looks like the burns creek trestle, not the Laurel trestle. The Laurel portal doesnt have any trestles left, only the small amount of tunnel that is visible from the road. The photo from burns creek is attached to wrights station about 3 miles down, Laurel was the next station down.