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History Summaries
California Nostalgia

Old Santa Cruz, CA Railroad Tunnels
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.

#

Name

Length
feet
Open
Sealed

Tunnel Portals listed in order
on route from San Jose

Elev.
feet

Notes

A

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

6,208
1880
1942

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

B

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

5,793
1880
1942

3. Northern Portal at Laurel

920

Easy access behind marker

4. Southern Portal at Glenwood Drive

920

Easy visual access at road - physical access more difficult

C

Mountain Charlie Tunnel
AKA Clem's Tunnel

910
1880
?

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

900

Easy access

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

900

Easy access

D

Zayante Tunnel (N. of Eccles)

240
1880
?

7. Northern Portal is sealed

-

Currently used for business record storage

Felton (S. of Big Trees)

263
1880
?

-

-

-

Rincon (S. of Rincon)

127
1894
?

-

-

-

Mission Hill (Santa Cruz)

927
1880
Open

-

-

-

20

200

60

50

50

300

50

150


.
Photos below are Portal # 1 - Wright's Station
Wright's Railroad Tunnel - Northern ApproachThe 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 PortalTwin 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 OutLooking 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 TunnelMy second shot in natural light, 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.
.
.


Burns Creek Portal - Cave InThe 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 CeilingEnd 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.
.
.

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



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Vaughn Aubuchon
Vaughn's Summaries
©2008 Vaughn Aubuchon
www.vaughns-1-pagers.com
All Rights Reserved

This Vaughn's Early Santa Cruz Railroad Tunnels summary
was last updated on 2014-08-08.