John D. Spreckels attempts to drive the last spike
Entrepreneur John D. Spreckels attempts to drive the last spike for his railroad in this historic photo.

The “Impossible Railroad” that a century ago allowed San Diegans to travel east without going through Los Angeles will be celebrated over the next year.

The San Diego & Arizona Railway opened 99 years ago on Thursday. Over the next year, the Pacific Southwest Railway Museum Association will celebrate the historic route’s centennial.

A variety of events are planned at the association’s museum in Campo leading up to a ceremonial re-enactment of the driving of the last spike on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019.

“We’re very excited about kicking-off our year-long celebration and the leading up to the 100th anniversary of the country’s final transcontinental railroad,” said Diana Hyatt, president of the association. “We invite all San Diego residents to join the celebration.”

Financed by San Diego entrepreneur John D. Spreckels, the line was called the “Impossible Railroad” due to the extreme terrain requiring 2.5 miles of bridges and trestles and 21 tunnels. Other challenges included floods, landslides, fires, hot weather, deaths from the flu, sabotage by Mexican revolutionaries and various delays caused by World War I.

Stretching 148 miles from San Diego to El Centro, the line included 44 miles in Mexico and took 12 years to complete. Spreckels himself drove the final spike.

The completion of the railway established a direct transcontinental link to the east by connecting with the Southern Pacific Railroad in El Centro. Previously, San Diegans had to travel north to Los Angeles to connect with an east-bound train.

The line is still partially in use today for vintage train rides and by three freight operators.

The Pacific Southwest Railway Museum Association is a non-profit educational organization dedicated to the preservation and interpretation of railroads as they existed in the Pacific Southwest.

Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.