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Donner Pass - good places to watch trains ?

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  • Member since
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  • From: Cambridge, UK
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Donner Pass - good places to watch trains ?
Posted by owlsroost on Wednesday, September 09, 2015 4:06 AM

I'm planning to do some train watching in the Donner Pass area next month (probably for a couple of days), driving around in a rental car (so using rutted dirt roads is off the menu).

I haven't so far managed to find a decent guide as to where the good spots to watch/photograph trains are.

So I'm looking for pointers to railfan guides, and/or suggestions for good places to get off I-80 and get trackside ?

I'm probably going to be staying overnight in Roseville/Auburn and Truckee (but that is flexible).

I've travelled over Donner on Amtrak many years ago, so I have an idea of the general landscape - it's the 'this is a good place, don't bother with that place' sort of information I'm interested in.

Also, what's the typical daily train frequency over Donner currently ?

Thanks in advance for all info Smile

 

 

Tags: Donner Pass
  • Member since
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  • From: SW Los Angeles county
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Posted by MikeF90 on Wednesday, September 09, 2015 5:37 PM

I rarely get up to that area but I have a few places for you to research:

- The Yahoo! calrailfans group is a good place to ask the above questions. Despite the name, they are Very NorCal oriented - think the San Jose to Reno corridor. You will need a Yahoo account And you have to apply for group membership.

- Check out my Google map of the UP Roseville sub. You can get an idea about the proximity of key RR locations to paved roads and other landmarks. I have no idea how good cellphone reception is in the mountainous Sierra Nevada, but the line is close to I-80 where the towers are likely near. If mobile internet access isn't available, perhaps the map KML data can be used with an offline mapping program (remember CDs?).

- The Central Pacific Railroad Photographic History Museum website has a wealth of information which should whet your appetite.

 

Google Map links ---> Sunset Route overview, SoCal metro, Yuma sub, Gila sub, east of Tucson

  • Member since
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Posted by owlsroost on Thursday, September 10, 2015 3:22 AM

Thanks for the info - your map looks really useful Smile

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Posted by groundeffects on Wednesday, September 16, 2015 12:32 AM

Hello there Owlroost,

I live just east of Roseville, so I do most of my railfanning in and around Donner Pass.  A few things I can recommend:

Get a good map.  Trains Magazine earlier this year had a"map of the month" called "Donner Pass, then and now".  This map is so good I keep a copy of this map in my car.  One nice thing is that it has the I-80 freeway exit numbers so you'll know where you are.  If you can interpret topographic maps and have a smart phone it is good to use a App like "US Topo Maps".  I use these topo maps when checking out possible photo locations, like hilltops in the back of Cold Stream Canyon for example.

You don't have to go "offroad" with your rental car, but you will want to get away from I-80 to see the railroad away from the noise of the freeway.   Some of my favorite places include the area near Casa Loma (exit 146) and Cold Stream Canyon (Truckee, exit 184).  Make time to go on the historic Lincoln Highway between Soda Springs and Donner Lake.  The old number one track between Norden and Eder Canyon is no more, but you can still see the historic summit tunnel and the snowsheds that run below the summit of Donner Pass.

Don't forget that the summit of Donner Pass is over 7,000 feet above sea level.  If you are planning on going there in October and staying in Truckee be prepared for mornings below freezing.  Make sure you have the right gear and clothing, even if you don't plan to go to far from the road.  Also, there are many areas where there is no cell phone coverage, such as Casa Loma and the back of Coldstream Canyon.  Keep this in mind when you are traveling over the mountain.

Some of my favorite places to photograph, from Roseville to Reno:  The SP station at Roseville-plenty of trains, Colfax, Gold Run and Alta, Casa Loma and Rocky Point (on the edge of the American River Canyon), Emigrant Pass and Yuba Gap, Soda Springs and Norden.  You can park near the Donner Monument and hike back into Cold Stream Canyon (near Truckee).  Here the track heads south to the back end of the canyon, then reverses itself to climb to Andover, and overlook Donner Lake.  Below Truckee you can get off I-80 and check out Boca, Farad and Verdi, before dropping into Reno. 

I'm not sure what the frequency of trains are over Donner Pass.  I've spent Saturdays up on "the Hill" and seen as many as 4 trains in 1 hour, to other times when I saw just one train all day.  One reliable thing is that Amtrak trains run each way over the mountain daily. 

If you want to get some ideas of what to photograph in the Donner Pass area, you can see some of my photos in a portfolio called "Steel Rails over Donner Pass".  Here is the link:  http://www.blurb.co.uk/b/4715599-steel-rails-over-donner-pass

Well, that's about it.  Happy Railfanning on the Hill !!!

Jeff B

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Posted by owlsroost on Wednesday, September 16, 2015 2:51 AM

Hi Jeff,

Thanks for all that - it is just the sort of info I was hoping for Smile

I'll bring some warm clothing - Donner climate should be a nice contrast to the heat around LA (can't visit SoCal without another pilgrimage to Tehachapi at least...)

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Posted by owlsroost on Tuesday, January 19, 2016 8:07 AM

I did the trip a few months ago (11 days in mid-October 2015, flying over from the UK), wandering around quite a bit of southern and central California - visited Tehachapi, Cajon, Donner Pass, Truckee, Portola, Feather River Canyon, Orange Empire Railway Museum and a few other places along the way (and had a few rides on Metrolink and Amtrak).

I've written a trip report (a travelogue with pictures, really) over on the UK 'RailUK' forum - Joshua Trees and Big GEs - Wanderings around California - if you'd like to read about it. It's written for a British audience who don't necessarily know much about the US scene, so is a bit 'mid-Atlantic' in terminology (e.g. grade crossing = level crossing). There are also some videos from the trip here - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCBg-DysQK2NyRmsDSn_iahA

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Posted by groundeffects on Wednesday, January 20, 2016 5:43 PM

Hello Owlsroost,

Glad you made it to Southern California last October.  I enjoyed your photos of the area, especially those around Tehachapi (I used to live nearby in Palmdale/the Antelope Valley).  When you can please add another link so we can see how the rest of your trip went.

Cheers,

Jeff B

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Posted by owlsroost on Thursday, January 21, 2016 3:43 AM
Hi Jeff,

Glad you're enjoying it :)

There should be 'page selector' controls at the top and bottom of each page to take you to the other pages (the thread is eight pages long in total).
  • Member since
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Posted by groundeffects on Tuesday, January 26, 2016 1:31 PM

Thanks, I just read about the rest of your trip.  Glad you were able to stop at some of my favorite places around Donner Pass (including Soda Springs, Casa Loma & Gold Run).  You really saw a large slice of California railroading on your trip.  Hope you're able to make it out to the west coast of the USA again sometime.

Regards,

Jeff B

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Posted by owlsroost on Tuesday, January 26, 2016 5:24 PM

groundeffects

Thanks, I just read about the rest of your trip.  Glad you were able to stop at some of my favorite places around Donner Pass (including Soda Springs, Casa Loma & Gold Run).  You really saw a large slice of California railroading on your trip.  Hope you're able to make it out to the west coast of the USA again sometime.

Regards,

Jeff B

 

Hi Jeff,

Yes, it was rather a marathon trip - I came across the car rental receipt yesterday and noticed it said the mileage was nearly 1900 miles (gulp!).

The colours at Casa Loma (helped by the 'blue skies' weather at the time) are just beautiful - I just needed an eastbound freight to complete the picture but UP and BNSF didn't oblige (maybe I need another visit for that Smile)

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Posted by owlsroost on Sunday, January 31, 2016 4:12 PM

I've put some video of the Donner Pass part of my trip on YouTube:

Trains at various places from Colfax to Truckee

 

Night time at Truckee -

 

Early morning at Truckee

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Posted by rickct on Tuesday, February 09, 2016 12:08 PM

Hi owlsroost et al: I drove westbound over the pass shortly after you did last autumn, and I compliment you on getting much more out of your trip, and your wonderful thorough reports in the UK! As a suggestion to others doing the trip, if you have a day and a half to spare, I'd recommend an Amtrak round trip from Cal over the pass and Sierras to Reno, Nevada. Overnite in Reno at a casino (Cheap weeknights - my night in a luxury room at Harrah's was the cheapest, best room I had on a cross-country driving trip!) Amtrak puts a local historian aboard in the observation lounge car to point out all of the scenic and historic spots, its wonderful! Also, exploring the perimeter of the Roseville yard uncovered the fleet of rotary snow plows, a treat for an easterner, still marked as Southern Pacific! Great job. Rick

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Posted by owlsroost on Wednesday, February 10, 2016 12:21 PM

Yes, the train ride over the pass is a must.

I'd done that years ago (from east to west) - it was memories of the ride that bought me back to Donner to explore it from the lineside.

(Incidentally, there is an ex-SP rotary snowplough in the WP museum at Portola too, if you want to get a close-up view of one - see below).

 SP rotary snowplough by ac6044cw, on Flickr

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Posted by shunter on Monday, February 15, 2016 6:11 PM

Nice to see the 'Brit's trip to Sunny Ca. Enjoyed the video's - well done! An 'Owl-Hoot' from 'down-unda'

Mittagong, New South Wales.

  • Member since
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Posted by owlsroost on Tuesday, February 16, 2016 4:41 AM

shunter

Nice to see the 'Brit's trip to Sunny Ca. Enjoyed the video's - well done! An 'Owl-Hoot' from 'down-unda'

Mittagong, New South Wales.

 

Thanks :-)

I met a couple of railfans from your part of world when I was at Tehachapi, and on a previous trip I chatted to enthusiasts from Italy and New Zealand - SoCal in particular definitely has an international attraction...

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