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History Summaries
California Nostalgia

Old Santa Cruz, CA
Railroad Tunnels
(This page is not intended
for small screens.)

by Vaughn Aubuchon

Burns Creek Portal, Wright's Railroad Tunnel, Laurel, CA

The above photo is looking out the Burns Creek portal of the Wright's Tunnel, from about 100 yards in.

Here is a description of the 4 main railroad tunnels on the Los Gatos to Santa Cruz line, opened in May 1880. For 60 years, the railroad transported people and freight between Santa Cruz and San Jose. The line washed out in the storms of February 1940. The rails were removed in 1941. The two longest tunnels were sealed at both ends using dynamite in April 1942. All photos below were taken in February 2008.




Tunnel Portals listed in order
on route from San Jose




Wright's Station-Burns Creek
AKA Wright's Tunnel
AKA the Summit Tunnel


1. Northern Portal at Wright's Station


Shut for 2 years after the April 1906 earthquake

2. Southern Portal at Burns Creek near Laurel


Hard to access
Many thanks to Corky


Laurel-Glenwood Tunnel
AKA the Glenwood Tunnel
(This tunnel runs under Highway 17.)


3. Northern Portal at Laurel


Easy access behind marker

4. Southern Portal at Glenwood Drive


Easy visual access at road - physical access more difficult


Mountain Charlie Tunnel
AKA Clem's Tunnel


5. Northern Portal at the junction of Glenwood Drive and Mt. Charlie Road (caved in)


Easy access

6. Southern Portal on Zayante side of hill, which can be entered


Easy access


Zayante Tunnel (N. of Eccles)


7. Northern Portal is sealed


Currently used for business record storage

Felton (S. of Big Trees)





Rincon (S. of Rincon)





Mission Hill (Santa Cruz)













Photos below are Portal # 1 -
Wright's Station

Wright's Railroad Tunnel - Northern Approach

The Approach to the Wright's Tunnel Northern Portal - Wright's Station
Much of the bank on the right has been washed away, leaving a wide 20 -foot deep creek bed.
One of the last railroad ties can be seen sticking out over the void, just behind the photographer.
The tunnel was closed for 2 years after 1906, due to a 6-foot lateral shift where the San Andreas fault
runs directly under the tunnel, not very far in from this northern portal.


Wright's Railroad Tunnel - Northern Portal

Twin Falls
The first 10 feet of the top of the tunnel's northern portal collapsed long ago.
In February 2008, we have a waterfall on each side of the entrance, and a creek bed to the right.


Wright's Railroad Tunnel - Looking Out

Looking Out from Inside
The Wright's Tunnel northern portal is sealed (caved in) about 100 feet inside.
The entrances to all the other tunnels have parallel walls, but this first entrance on the line is barrel shaped. It is even more barrel-shaped than it appears here, since there is about 4 to 5 feet of dirt and rocks covering the bottom.

My car can faintly be seen, parked exactly where the general store was located - now just a wide spot in the road.

Photos below are Portal # 2 -
Burns Creek GHOSTS!

Burns Creek Portal - Wright's TunnelWright's Tunnel - Burns Creek Portal
My flash revealed strange images in the frame.
My first shot used a flash which caught a few ghosts of long ago.
Somehow, I seem to have captured the steam and smoke from the last train.


No Ghosts

Burns Creek Portal - Wright's Tunnel

My second shot in natural light,
just seconds later, and the
"ghost steam" was gone.

Look very carefully at the very top, and you can see "1908".
The tunnel had been in operation since 1880, but the concrete portal
was added in 1908, two years after the big quake of April 1906.
The tunnel was closed for 2 years, due to a 6-foot lateral shift where the San Andreas fault ran under the tunnel. The west side of the fault (the above portal) is headed for Alaska, at the rate of about 3/4 inch per year.

Corwin H. Lakin

Burns Creek Portal - Cave In

The Keeper of the Memories - Corwin H. Lakin
We traversed the length of the tunnel with no flashlights.
I think it was a test for me. I think I passed. Slowly and carefully, with verbal clues from Corky.
A couple of geologists had refused to enter the tunnel. I figured my odds were pretty good, since it had not collapsed in 128 years. Safe enough for me. Although some wall facing had fallen in the Loma Prieta quake of 1989, the entire brick ceiling is (mostly) intact.


Wright's Railroad Tunnel - Brick Ceiling

End of the Line - about 200 yards in
It was pointed out to me that, if you looked carefully at the top,
you can see where timber replaces brick, which seems to be the criteria which determined the placement of the dynamite.
I am always drawn to the face at the top right - a guy with glasses, grey hair and white teeth, staring down at me. But like the face on Mars, he disappears at higher resolution - just stains on the wood.

Redwoods in the MistThe Eternal Redwoods
Redwood forest in the mist, along the trail to the tunnel.

top of page

Ray Hosler's Tunnel Page - Excellent! A cyclist's perspective
So sorry to see that Ray's pages have been removed.

Wright's Station, CA Wiki, with tunnel discussion

Santa Cruz Railroad Tunnels - Google search

Railroad Tunnel Maps -
U.S.G.S. Topographic Quadrangles

The yellow quadrangles contain tunnels.
Shown North to South in standard geo display.


Castle Rock Ridge
Los Gatos
(Wright's Tunnel)
Santa Teresa
(Zayante Tunnel,
Felton Tunnel)
(Glenwood Tunnel,
Mt. Charlie Tunnel)
Loma Prieta
Santa Cruz
(Rincon Tunnel,
Mission Hill Tunnel)
Watsonville West


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This Vaughn's Early Santa Cruz Railroad Tunnels
summary was last updated on 2015-01-27.