The Eagle Mountain Railroad

The Eagle Mountain Railroad was a privately owned rail line, part of the Kaiser Steel Corporation which transported iron from an interchange with Southern Pacific at Ferrum, CA (itself Latin for Iron) to Eagle Mountain Mine, a distance of 52 miles. (Right of way)

Yard at Ferrum, looking north. UP's Yuma Subdvision is still active here. Photo by John Acosta, April 2009. (Abandoned Rails)

Ferrum is located on the Salton Sea in California's Coachella Valley.

1963 Topo Map of the line. (Wikipedia Commons)

Construction began in 1947 with the line being completed the following year in 1948. It was one of the longer private railroads to be built post World War II in the US, similar to Wyoming's US Steel Railroad, and Arizona's Black Mesa & Lake Powell Railroad, both of which are also abandoned.

The story of its demise was similar to many mining railroads, once the ore dried up, there was no point in continuing service. In the late 1970's, increased environmental concerns at the Fontana Mill and stiff foreign competition resulted in decreased demand for Kaiser Steel products and thus resulted in a reduction of output at the Eagle Mountain Mine. The mining stopped in 1983, but left with a significant stockpile of iron ore, railroad operations kept going for a few years afterwards. It was placed out of service in 1986, and yet much of its trackage still remains as of 2024.

The wide-open space of the eastern California desert made it an excellent location for filming a Western movie, and in the 1950's, The Professionals was filmed along the tracks. Columbia Pictures crew secured permission from Kaiser Steel to utilize the railway, including locomotives, rolling stock, and bridges, for their movie production. Filmed in January and February of 1966, the movie showcased various scenes of the train traversing tracks, crossing bridges, and winding through canyons. The film achieved significant success, receiving three Academy Award nominations and earning acclaim from critics, attracting large audiences.

Even after its abandonment, the Eagle Mountain Railroad found new life as a favorite spot for railbike enthusiasts and explorers. The open desert terrain, captured in mesmerizing drone flights over the line, offers a unique experience for those venturing into its historical tracks. 

Despite some bridges and tunnels suffering damage from fires, floods, and vandalism, certain sections of the rail bed remain intact, offering adventurous explorers the opportunity to visit. The arid desert climate has kept the right of way free of overgrowth and preserved the rail longer than a more humid environment would, meaning that it's still quite easy to traverse, despite being abandoned for nearly 40 years as of 2024.

Thanks as always for reading!


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