Todd's Railfan Guide to
Tehachapi Loop

In General
Getting Here


In General

Location / Name:
     Tehachapi CA

What's Here:
     Tehachapi Loop


     GPS Coordinates: 35.197076, -118.53901

Scanner Frequencies:


Access by train/transit:



The Scoop:

My first visit to Tehachapi was in 1991, while on a trip to California to visit my sister.  I rode up at night, and found a place to pull off the road near the loop, and tried getting some sleep.  Only problem was, every time a freight went by, I just had to wake up :-)  Once the sun decided to join me, I was really glad I made the trip here, it's an outstanding place to railfan.  It's the west coast's equivalent to Horseshoe Curve.  On my next visit to L.A., I dragged along the wife, and even she was impressed!

The railroad was built over Tehachapi Pass from Caliente to Mojave in 1876 and is considered an outstanding engineering feat.  The track climbs 3,600 feet in 50 track miles from Bakersfield to Tehachapi using "S" curves back and forth up the Tehachapi Creek watershed.  At one point just above Keene, the engineer, William Hood, built a large continuous curve which brought the track back over itself and has become known as the Tehachapi Loop.  This engineering feat has been named one of the railroad wonders of the world.

In 1955 a monument celebrated its designation as a California Historical Landmark, and in 1998 it was honored by the American Society of Civil Engineers as a National Civil Engineering Historic Landmark

The best viewing locations are along Woodford-Tehachapi Road either southeast from Keene or northwest of Old Towne Tehachapi.

The above is from the Chamber of Commerce webpage at http://www.tehachapi.com/v-int.php

The Tehachapi Loop is a 0.73-mile (1.17 km) long 'spiral', or helix, on the Union Pacific Railroad line through Tehachapi Pass, of the Tehachapi Mountains in Kern County, south-central California.  The line connects Bakersfield and the San Joaquin Valley to Mojave in the Mojave Desert.

Seeing a daily average of almost 40 trains, the line is one of the busiest single-track mainlines in the world.

With its frequent trains and spectacular scenery, the Loop is one of the prime railfan areas in the country.  In 1998, the Loop was named a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark and is now California Historical Landmark #508.

One of the engineering feats of its day, the Loop was built by Southern Pacific Railroad beginning in 1874, and opened in 1876.  Contributors to the project's construction include Arthur De Wint Foote and the project's chief engineer, William Hood.

On the loop, the track passes over itself, lessening the grade.  The loop gains 77 feet (23 m) in elevation as the track climbs at a steady 2% grade.  A train more than 4,000 feet (1,200 m) long thus passes over itself going around the loop.  At the bottom of the loop, the track passes through Tunnel 9, the ninth tunnel built as the railroad works its way from Bakersfield.

The siding on the loop is known as Walong after Southern Pacific District Roadmaster W. A. Long.

A large white cross, "The Cross at the Loop", stands atop the hill in the center of the loop in memory of two Espee employees killed on May 12, 1989, in a train derailment in San Bernardino, California.

The Loop became the property of the Union Pacific in 1996, when it absorbed the Southern Pacific.  Trains of the BNSF Railway also use the loop under trackage rights. 

Union Pacific bars passenger trains from the line, which prevents Amtrak's San Joaquin train from serving Los Angeles.  This has been the case since the creation of Amtrak in 1971.  An exception is made for the Coast Starlight, which uses the line as a detour if its normal route is closed


The above is from Wikipedia.

Back in Tehachapi, there is a railroad museum, the Tehachapi Depot Museum.  More info below.


Thanks to Denver Todd for his help with my railfan guides and suggesting welcome changes to help all ya'll.

Websites and other additional information sources of interest for the area:

Aerial shots were taken from either Google Maps or www.bing.com/maps as noted, once in a great while maybe MapQuest.  The screen captures are made with Snagit, a Techsmith product... a great tool if you have never used it! 

PLEASE NOTE: This page is picture intensive which will take a while to download if you are not on a high speed connection.... sorry.

Getting Here

From LA, take I-5 north to the Antelope Valley Freeway (CA 14), exit 162.  Take that north ~ 65 miles thru Palmdale to Mojave and hang a left. 

In Mojave, you have a choice of whether you want to continue on 14, which bears to the right, or go straight on CA 58.  Both will take you to the Barstow-Bakersfield Highway.  Head west to Tehachapi.  It will take you a couple of 2 or 3 hours to get to Tehachapi from LA. 

While in Mojave, you may want to check things out, for there is a small yard and a wye there.

The railroad parallels you on 58 for a good portion of the run between Mojave and Tehachapi.

From other destinations, please use your GPS.  The coordinates are: 35.197076, -118.53901




Tehachapi Loop
Tehachapi Depot Historical Museum
UP Yard Office
the Tehachapi Museum

   Tehachapi Loop

Picture by Sean Lamb, from Wikipedia, ~1987.
An eastbound ATSF freight crossing over itself at tunnel #9. 
Signals guard the entrance of the tunnel where the two tracks go into one, but the signal bridge is now gone.

Photo by Dicklyon from Wikipedia ~2001 or so.

Trains will often use mid-train helpers.

The following pictures were found on EBay.  The last three even have signals in them!

   Tehachapi Depot Historical Museum

GPS Coordinates: 35.132327, -118.447678

The Tehachapi Depot Museum is located at 101 W. Tehachapi Blvd.
The museum is open Thursday through Monday 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
For additional information visit www.tehachapidepot.com or call 661-823-1100

The Depot Museum houses several large collections of historic railroad artifacts, including antique railroad maintenance equipment and tools, dinnerware, signs and other railroadiana, plus stories and photographs of the men and women who built the railroad and whose lives were affected by it.

The museum also has an impressive number of signals, including B&O CPL and Pennsy PL dwarves.

And, quite surprisingly, the museum has a creditable number of representative western railroad signal types.
The first set of four pictures are from Richard Gamble, and he recently took these on a visit with his son.  They both enjoyed the museum.  Many thanks for sending them in!
The other pictures with a green outline are from Google streetview.



   UP Yard Office

GPS Coordinates: 35.132751, -118.446728

The green arrow points to the yard office, and the "yard" appears to be just a siding :-)


    the Tehachapi Museum

GPS Coordinates: 35.129517, -118.447895

The museum is located at 310 S. Green Street.  Admission is free. 
Hours are Friday through Sunday, Noon - 4 pm. For more information call (661) 822-3937 or visit tehachapimuseum.org
A brochure is available at the Chamber of Commerce office.

The museum houses items of historical significance from the area.


I found all of these postcards on EBay.  Couldn't find one for the depot in town, tho.




  WB Searchlights - Downtown

Well, don't get your hopes up, because in the bottom view, it appears that UP has replaced the old searchlights on a cantilever bridge with standard "darth vader" colorlight signals.....  Darn!!


  Does anyone have any additional photos of the signals in or around Tehachapi??? If so, please send them in!


Pictorial cancellation from the Keene Post Office celebrating the Loop's 129th anniversary.  From Wikipedia.

Historical USGS Maps

Well, this is the best I can find from ~100 years ago.  I guess there just wasn't that much out there back around 1900 to map.

This is from the California index map from 1926, and comes from: http://www.lib.utexas.edu/maps/topo/topo_us.html



I love trains, and I love signals.  I am not an expert.  My webpages reflect what I find on the topic of the page.  This is something I have fun with while trying to help others.  My webpages are an attempt at putting everything I can find of the subject in one convenient place.  There are plenty of other good websites to help me in this effort, and they are listed in my links section on my indexa page, or as needed on individual pages.  Please do not write to me about something that may be incorrect, and then hound the heck out of me if I do not respond to you in the manner you would like.  I operate on the "Golden Rule Principle", and if you are not familiar with it, please acquaint yourself with how to treat people by reading Mathew 7:12 (among others, the principle exists in almost every religion).  If you contact me (like some do, hi Paul) and try to make it a "non-fun" thing and start with the name calling, your name will go into my spambox list! :-)

Please Note:  Since the main focus of my two websites is railroad signals, the railfan guides are oriented towards the signal fan being able to locate them.  For those of you into the modeling aspect of our hobby, my indexa page has a list of almost everything railroad oriented I can think of to provide you with at least a few pictures to help you detail your pike.

If this is a railfan page, every effort has been made to make sure that the information contained on this map and in this railfan guide is correct.  Once in a while, an error may creep in, especially if restaurants or gas stations open, close, or change names.  Most of my maps are a result of personal observation after visiting these locations.  I have always felt that a picture is worth a thousand words", and I feel annotated maps such as the ones I work up do the same justice for the railfan over a simple text description of the area.  Since the main focus of my website is railroad signals, the railfan guides are oriented towards the signal fan being able to locate them.  Since most of us railheads don't have just trains as a hobby, I have also tried to point out where other interesting sites of the area are.... things like fire stations, neat bridges, or other significant historical or geographical feature.  While some may feel they shouldn't be included, these other things tend to make MY trips a lot more interesting.... stuff like where the C&O Canal has a bridge going over a river (the Monocacy Aqueduct) between Point of Rocks and Gaithersburg MD, it's way cool to realize this bridge to support a water "road" over a river was built in the 1830's!!!  

My philosophy: Pictures and maps are worth a thousand words, especially for railfanning.  Text descriptions only get you so far, especially if you get lost or disoriented.  Take along good maps.... a GPS is OK to get somewhere, but maps are still better if you get lost!  I belong to AAA, which allows you to get local maps for free when you visit the local branches.  ADC puts out a nice series of county maps for the Washington DC area, but their state maps do not have the railroads on them.  If you can find em, I like the National Geographic map book of the U.S..... good, clear, and concise graphics, and they do a really good job of showing you where tourist type attractions are, although they too lack the railroads.  Other notes about specific areas will show up on that page if known.

Pictures and additional information is always needed if anyone feels inclined to take 'em, send 'em, and share 'em, or if you have something to add or correct.... credit is always given! BE NICE!!! Contact info is here

Beware: If used as a source, ANYTHING from Wikipedia must be treated as being possibly being inaccurate, wrong, or not true.


NEW 02/08/2014
Last Modified 14-Aug-2016