Los Angeles Union Station
The last of the great train stations was opened on May 3, 1939, serving the trains of Santa Fe, Southern Pacific, and Union Pacific. Designed by John Parkinson and Donald B. Parkinson, LA father-son architects also responsible for City Hall, Union Station is busier than ever today serving Amtrak, Metrolink, and Metro Los Angeles passengers.
This iconic mountain pass through the San Bernardino National Forest is the gateway to Los Angeles for BNSF Railway and Union Pacific Railroad. The route opened in 1885 when the California Southern built north to connect with the Atlantic & Pacific in Barstow, connecting owner Santa Fe Railway with Southern California. For more than 100 years Santa Fe and Union pacific (UP via trackage rights) operated trains over grades as high as three percent, with a double track route through iconic locations such as Blue Cut, Sullivan’s Curve, and Summit. Southern Pacific built its own “Palmdale Cutoff” line in 1967, now owned by Union Pacific. Route 66 once shared the route with the railroads but was replaced by Interstate 15; many segments still remain.
Completed in 1876, Southern Pacific’s incredible twisting railroad over the Tehachapi Mountains connected Los Angeles with the transcontinental railroad in Sacramento. The world-famous route between Bakersfield and Mojave is headlined by the Tehachapi Loop, where trains complete a 360-degree curve and cross over themselves to gain or descend elevation. SP and Santa Fe operated trains over this life-size model railroad until the mergers of the late 1990s; today, Union Pacific owns the line and BNSF Railway utilizes trackage rights.
Southern Pacific completed its southern transcontinental route in 1881, climbing out of the LA basin via Redlands and San Timoteo Canyon, Beaumont, Palm Springs, Indio and along the Salton Sea before crossing into Arizona at Yuma. While the line was completed into Texas in 1881 it officially became called the “Sunset Route” in 1883 with a connection to New Orleans. Today this busy route is owned by Union Pacific and still offers glimpses into Southern California’s past with segments in San Timoteo Canyon where trains roll past acres of orange groves.
The historic Santa Fe station in Fullerton is home to the busiest rail stop in Orange County, with Amtrak’s Southwest Chief and Pacific Surfliners competing for space with Metrolink commuter trains and BNSF Railway freight trains. Up to 100 trains a day can be seen at Fullerton, which sports a café in the Santa Fe station and a well-placed pedestrian overpass. A short walk west is the former Union Pacific depot, now a Spaghetti Factory restaurant (with a LARHF satellite exhibit inside!).