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Tracking Train History
Larry Brooks | 9th Street

Mary Arballo at the bridge in 1936.
Photo courtesy Del Mar Historical Society.
Click to enlarge.

In 1946 the Oscar for the best song went to Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe by Harry Warren and Johnny Mercer from the Judy Garland movie The Harvey Girls. In the 1930s and 40s rail travel was the rage, and the Santa Fe’s Super Chief, from Chicago to LA, was the ultimate. The earlier development of the Santa Fe Railroad impacted Del Mar.

In July 1880 the Santa Fe Railroad organized a subsidiary to connect the growing port of San Diego to its lucrative east-west mainline. This subsidiary was called the California Southern Railroad, and it began its odyssey in National City, just south of San Diego. All of the locomotives, rolling stock, and steel rails for this enterprise were shipped around Cape Horn from the east coast to National City, and the timber ties were shipped south from Oregon.

By 1882 the new line had been constructed north through downtown San Diego, around Mount Soledad, down Sorrento Valley, across the Peñasquitos Creek, and then up and over the mesa that three years later became Jacob Taylor’s Del Mar. Taylor’s plat map, recorded with the county in October 1885, shows the tracks running down the center of Railroad Avenue, later renamed Stratford Court. Obviously, Taylor had no choice where the tracks ran relative to his planned resort, but he had to deal with only a few trains per day.

In the very early 1900s the South Coast Land Company purchased Taylor’s holdings north of 9th Street, and they did not want the tracks running through the middle of their planned new resort for the corner of 15th Street and Grand Avenue, later renamed Camino del Mar. It is not clear quite what the business arrangement was, but the tracks were realigned from Railroad Avenue to along the bluffs from Peñasquitos Creek to 16th Street. South Coast Land got the train off of their street, and California Southern eliminated the very steep grade in the south up to the top of the Del Mar mesa.

Residents in the old Taylor-section of Del Mar were given a pedestrian bridge over the tracks near the foot of 10th Street. The bridge eventually deteriorated and was removed. The rumor on the street is that a replacement bridge was promised.
The tracks have been on the bluffs now for more than 110 years, and have experienced only one accident. On New Year’s Eve 1940, street runoff after heavy rains eroded the soil under the tracks, and a northbound freight train derailed at the foot of 10th Street. The engineer and the fireman were killed. However, as Mother Nature has her way with the bluffs an alternate route is being investigated.


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