Railroads & Locomotives Hot Spots Historical Hot Spot: The city of Tehachapi is a great base for chasing trains

Historical Hot Spot: The city of Tehachapi is a great base for chasing trains

By David Lustig | May 22, 2023

| Last updated on March 26, 2024

Civilization in the wild, Southern California style

Email Newsletter

Get the newest photos, videos, stories, and more from Trains.com brands. Sign-up for email today!

Tehachapi: An oasis in the mountains

grey water tower with Tehachapi on it
Located near the station, the town proudly declares its heritage on the side of a water tank.

Planning a trip to the Tehachapi Mountains in California? Thinking about watching and photographing trains at the Loop, Cable, Caliente, Bealville, maybe as far down as Edison on the Bakersfield side? They are all great places. But don’t forget Tehachapi, the town.

Geographically, the little city of about 15,000 is 35 miles east-southwest of Bakersfield, and 20 miles west of Mojave. It’s claim to notoriety is not railroading, but for a large California Correctional Institution, more commonly known as prison.

The town was officially established in the 1860s, with a Southern Pacific railroad station at its center. Santa Fe trains also used the route via trackage rights. In the days of steam, especially before the advent of CTC, the facility was a literal beehive of activity and through summer’s heat and winter’s snow, it was a busy 24-hour-a-day operation. Today, the Tehachapi Mountain route is home to Union Pacific with BNSF operating via trackage rights.

train station in sun with benches
The station is an almost identical replica of the original, which burned down a few years ago.

While the railroad is no longer the cornerstone of Tehachapi’s being, that hasn’t stopped the townspeople from remembering and celebrating the city’s past. One has to look no further than the station, an almost exact replica of the original SP structure. It’s family friendly and a great way to introduce future fans to the wonders of railroading, especially when a train is passing by.

The town is also a great place to use as an anchor when exploring the area. There are plenty of restaurants and hotels to satisfy almost every demand.

If you’re planning a trip to the area, remember you are in the mountains, so dress appropriately. Even a warm summer’s day can turn chilly in the late afternoon. Finally, as you explore the mountains, remember that you are not the only creatures out here. There is a vast variety of bugs, things that slither, and wildlife out there with you. I’d advise bringing along water and snacks, too.

Another nice thing about shooting in the Tehachapi Mountains is that if you only own a “normal” lens, you have everything you need to capture great images.

BNSF train in loop with mountains
Near the city of Tehachapi is the famed Loop. A BNSF freight train is about to go under itself.
You must login to submit a comment