Railbiking the Carrizo Gorge

I recently took railbike trip on the former San Diego and Arizona Eastern Railroad into the Carrizo Gorge. The line is currently embargoed east of Jacumba because of bridge conditions, so this gave me the perfect opportunity to ride the line. This trip was in late January, 2009.
A look at how the railbike works; a front wheel is guided along the rail by flanges and a powerful magnet. This keeps the front wheel of the bike on the rails. An outrigger hold wheels against the opposite rail and holds the bike vertical. Then the rear wheel follows the front wheel, tracking independently on the rail.

Here's the front wheel.

At speed, you can see how the front wheel tracks on the rail.

Heading Into the Gorge
Starting the trip in Jacumba, the valley is pretty wide and flat. The line turns northward, away from the Mexican border and begins the descent along Carrizo Creek.

The first crossing of Carrizo Creek. You can see that some work has recently been done on this trestle.

The first tunnel, leading into the upper reaches of the gorge.

Entering the gorge.

Immediately, the gorge deepens and the rails wind along the steep edges. Many bridges are engineered to hold the tracks against the canyon walls.

Exiting Tunnel 8.

At Titus siding, three ex-Montreal commuter coaches and a caboose are stored in the siding. Its a long story why they're there, but now they are stuck in the gorge because of the embargo.

Inside Tunnel 10, the longest in the gorge.

The impressive Goat Canyon Trestle carries the tracks across a crumbling slope of the canyon. Originally, the line passed through a tunnel here. But after sliding away several times, the bridge was built as a permanent bypass.

Presumably, this tunnel just east of the trestle was one that had collapsed. In order to reopen this line after many years of abandonment, many of the tunnels needed to be cleared and repaired. This tunnel is where I turned around to head back to Jacumba.

Back at the trestle, the semaphore blade is still attached to the signal that protected train movements over the bridge.

It is obvious that some work has been done to the deck of the Goat Canyon Trestle.

Stone retaining walls hold the tracks against the canyon walls.

A self portrait at speed. The lantern is definitely needed inside the longer tunnels.

Entering Tunnel 10 again.

On the return, I derailed and shredded the side-wall of my front tire at MP 97 - still 5 miles from Jacumba.

So I pushed the bike the rest of the way.

At the west end of the gorge, the SD&AE "no trespassing" sign still stands, although heavily worn.


blove said...

That looks like a really cool adventure! My friends Nick and Tiffany sent me your link. I like your bike.

gania said...

nate always has the best adventures in which he narrowly escapes death and acts nonchalant about it.

Rachael Herron said...

OMG. That's amazing. What a view of something we never, ever see. Thanks, dude!

surfponto said...

That is awesome.
I have never seen anything like that bike.
That is the way to travel out there.
Anza Borrego Dot Net

Anthony Pawley said...

Nathan, your blog is definitely one of the nicest, if not best, on Mexican railroading in general.

This piece on the SD&AE is wonderful, and your adaptation to your 1987 or 88? off road machine is incredibly ingenious. Sorry to see the old Ritchey Megabite torn to shreds.

Look forward to seing more, many thanks for your hard work!

Anonymous said...

I railbiked Carrizo Gorge years ago when it was first closed. Your photos are excellent. Just returned from a railbiking expedition in Argentina on La Trochita, the little narrow gauge, over the route of the Old Patagonia Express. Check it out. www.epeterh.blogspot.com

Anonymous said...

What kind of magnet do you use, is it rare-earth Neodymium or regular?

Size, strength?

I'm building a magnet-only railbike with one myself.

Anonymous said...

I would not use the magnet design. Even the original designer who used this for years has moved on to a new concept.

Anonymous said...

Wow! Thank you so much for posting this beautiful trip description & photos.

I'm building my own railbike right now so as to explore the vast empties, the inbetween abandoned wildernesses that exist everywhere but nowhere...

Anonymous said...

did u go to the jacumba yard if so did you see any locomoitves

Jamian Mateja said...

Dude, this is awesome.

Unknown said...

Wow, very nice. Viewing the Goat Canyon trestle has been on my todo list for about 15 years and I finally got around doing it this weekend with my teenage boys. It was amazing. We got within half a mile and got a great view of the structure. I *have* to go back now to check it out up close. With a regular mtb, how doable is it to ride from the desert to I8? I am in good shape; just want to know what the trail is like, or will I be riding on the RR itself?