Say bye to 1927 railroad bridge near Camp Pendleton

Also, the end of the train-traffic logjam

Old truss bridge segment in foreground
  • Old truss bridge segment in foreground

Motorists traveling northbound on I-5 through Camp Pendleton have probably noticed the slow disappearance of the old, rusty, white railroad bridge over the Santa Margarita River. The Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway Company built the arched truss design in 1927. Until recently, it recently served up to 30 trains per day.

Since November 18, when Amtrak, Metrolink, and freight trains were diverted to the newly built, double tracked, river-crossing bridge, work crews have been torch-cutting the old bridge, removing one component at a time.

The old Santa Margarita Bridge may have been one of the last 1920s style bridges built for Southern California’s trains and highways — at least one of the last ones that was still in use. Several old steel bridges of historical significance, such as along Route 66, have been preserved, but not for everyday travel.

According to SANDAG spokesperson Helen Gao, the bridge weighed almost 1000 tons. A 300-ton-rated crane is being used to lift the pieces out of the riverbed. The final section (pictured) is probably completely gone by now. The old steel is being trucked to a recycling yard in Long Beach.

SANDAG, with a goal of increasing train usage by double-tracking San Diego’s entire coastal rail corridor, funded and constructed the bridge’s replacement. The old, single-track bridge was a train-traffic logjam for north- and southbound commuters. The North County Transit District owns the tracks, although its Coaster trains do not travel north of Oceanside.

Prior to the steel bridge’s construction in 1927, the older wooden-style trestle bridge, on more than one occasion, was wiped out by heavy flooding, isolating San Diego train travel from both Los Angeles and the San Bernardino/Riverside areas.

However, several of the old, wooden-trestle-style train bridges are still in use and can be seen crossing the San Dieguito River at the Del Mar Fairgrounds, the San Elijo Lagoon in Cardiff by the Sea, and the popular surf spot in Northern San Diego County named after the bridge’s design — Trestles.

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I'll miss seeing the old structure which was a reminder of times past. It is sad that it could not be preserved in some way. Often such bridges, when replaced for rail or road use, are kept and allow pedestrian access. This one, in the middle of Interstate 5, and on Camp Pendleton, would have had little such use and the access would have been difficult. To donate the bridge to a museum would have been a very costly undertaking due to its size and weight, and would probably have required it to be disassembled before being moved.

When I first saw it, circa-1970, the railroad had painted "SHIP AND TRAVEL SANTA FE" on the top girder. Later, when Amtrak took over operation of passenger trains (May 1971), the "AND TRAVEL" part was painted over. That lettering could still be seen until just a few years ago.

Actually, Coaster trains do cross that bridge on the way to the servicing facility on Stuart Mesa, just a bit north of there. But they don't carry passengers there, north of the Oceanside Transit Center. There is now a proposal to have the Coaster trains start and end at Stuart Mesa, with a station there for use by those who work in the area, both military and civilian.

Ken, shhhhh! Talk of how this will facilitate double tracking of the LOSSAN corridor line could result in some loud protests. Many people who live or work along the line don't like it, and don't want to see it carrying more traffic. As it now stands, the line is at or near capacity and cannot carry more trains during peak traffic times. Elimination of all the single track bottlenecks from downtown San Diego to Fullerton would increase the capacity, and help keep the trains on schedule. But the stretch through Del Mar would be hard to double track, and would likely need to be relocated inland. That sort of work would be very costly, however it was done, and is unlikely to happen soon or ever.)

Visduh, You are correct on all accounts. The I-5 widening plan from O'side to La Jolla include increasing train travel by 100% - up to 100 trains a day. And I really hate it when you remember some factoid that I have forgotten :) SHIP AND TRAVEL SANTA FE - great memory! The letters were in red, correct?

Honestly, I don't remember the color of the letters. Over the years they faded to a point that you could see them if you looked for them, but they didn't stand out at all.

It was a possibility that some organization, like the local Pacific Southwest Railroad Museum, could have prevailed upon SANDAG to dismantle the bridge and then donate it to them. But their record of making use of such things isn't too strong, with the pieces of a crane that was near what is now Seaport Village, and also a locomotive turntable, sitting in Campo, rusting. And where to set up such a bridge? So, I suppose its destruction was inevitable.

And moving 1,000 tons. Yiks! I think because it was probably out there in the middle of Camp Pendleton, no one noticed or thought to ask to save it. I'm sure one of the train museums would have wanted, Campo, Perris, BIshop, or Sacramento. I wonder how much they got for recycled value? If they got what I get for misc. metal @ 3 cents/#, should have been $60,000. That be a story right there.

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