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Donner Pass Traffic Frequency

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  • Member since
    July 2006
  • From: WI
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Donner Pass Traffic Frequency
Posted by Harrold on Saturday, February 27, 2021 9:30 AM

I just signed up for Train 81 for 81 in October and we're planning other activity while we're in the area.  I know with COVID traffic is probably down but on a typical day, how many trains beside Amtrak are using the Donner Pass route between Sacramento and Reno?  Is it worth spending a day there?

  • Member since
    November 2006
  • From: Folsom, CA (eh, outside the slammer)
  • 189 posts
Posted by groundeffects on Saturday, February 27, 2021 11:33 PM

I'm not familiar with "Train 81", and I couldn't find any info for this online, so if possible, please advise what this is.

In regards to Donner Pass traffic (before the pandemic), I think the average number of trains over the pass was around 15-18 a day.  I'm not sure what the average number is nowadays, but it seems less then before the pandemic started.  I took a drive the other day up to Alta (located in the Sierras about 50 miles east of Roseville, CA) and saw 3 trains in about 1 hour.  On the other hand, many times I've been trackside in the same location for approximately 4 hours and I didn't see a single train.  Despite this, It is definitely worth it to spend the day exploring Donner Pass. 

If you go, a couple of tips:  Get a good map of the area, and not just a Northern California road map.  A few years ago, Trains Magazine published a "map of the month" called "Donner Pass, then and now".  This map is so good I still keep 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 you might want to look at a app that utilizes topo maps.  I like to use topo maps when checking out possible photo locations, like hilltops in the back of Cold Stream Canyon for example. 

Avoid going "offroad" with your rental car, but you might want to get away from the I-80 freeway to see the Donner Pass route (away from the noise of the freeway).  Some of my favorite places include the area near Casa Loma (exit 146, near Alta) 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 from the main road 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 exploring the area near Donner Pass itself) be prepared for mornings below freezing.  Make sure you have the right outdoor gear for the trip and cold weather clothing, even if you don't plan to go too far from the road.  Also, please note that there are many areas on both sides of Donner Pass where there is no cell phone coverage, such as Casa Loma (near Alta) and the back of Coldstream Canyon (near Truckee, CA).  Keep this in mind when you are traveling over the mountain between Sacramento and Reno.  It's better to err on the side of caution if you want to get away from the freeway.

Here are some of my favorite places to go, from Roseville to Reno:  The Amtrak station at Roseville-plenty of trains, Colfax, Gold Run and Alta, Casa Loma and Rocky Point (on the edge of the North Fork of the American River Canyon), Emigrant Pass and Yuba Gap, Soda Springs and Norden.  For something different 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.  East of Truckee you can get off I-80 and check out Boca, Farad and Verdi, before dropping into Reno. 

If you want to get some ideas of what to photograph in the Donner Pass area, you can see some of my photos in my portfolio "Steel Rails over Donner Pass".  Here is the link:  Steel Rails Over Donner Pass by Jeffrey S. Bagley | Blurb Books UK

Thanks.

Jeff

 

 

 

 

 

  • Member since
    July 2006
  • From: WI
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Posted by Harrold on Sunday, March 14, 2021 6:09 PM

Thanks for all the details, Jeff.  the 81 for 81 is a Trains photo charter at the Nevada Northern, 3 days of double headed steam.

Ken

  • Member since
    November 2006
  • From: Folsom, CA (eh, outside the slammer)
  • 189 posts
Posted by groundeffects on Wednesday, March 17, 2021 11:47 AM

Hi Harold,

Sounds like fun! 

I'm not sure how much time you have to explore Donner Pass, but Donner Pass (Norden/Soday Springs, CA) is about a 6 hour drive from Ely, NV, or about 365 miles one way using highway 50.  If you want to take I-80 for part of the way you're looking at a one way drive time of over 7 hours.  As a FYI, Norden to Sacramento is another 90 miles one way using I-80 over Donner Pass.

Hope this helps in your trip planning.

 

  • Member since
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Posted by YoHo1975 on Friday, April 23, 2021 12:40 PM
I realize this is well over a month old, but perhaps worth noting that UP seems to be running some trains directionally recently. For example, I see a lot of container trains west bound through the Feather River but Eastbound over Donner. Unfortunately the timetables available on line have not been updates to account for PSR changes so they aren't valid. But you're still guaranteed a few massive trains headed out a day and now all the stack trains have other non-intermodal tacked on to the end.

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