On February 24, 2021 the Transportation Agency of Monterey County approved our lease for demonstrating our handcar concept across the Monterey Branch Line. On March 4 we performed a walking assessment of the route so we can prepare for the task of clearing trees, brush, and ice plant from 3.5 miles of track. It has been 20 years since a train polished the rails and we have to undo 20 years of natural encroachment.
We have our work cut out in readying the line for tours:
Leaving Marina we have invasive ice plant over the track. We will have to tear this off the track.
After passing under Highway 1 we enter a heavily grown over segment of tracks. This is about 2500 feet of old track with railroad ties that date back to the great depression. We know this because there are dated nails in the ties.
Marina is known for its thick fog and we can see the results of the salty sea air on the joint bars. You can’t run a train over this, but this is not a problem for handcars.
About a mile into the trip the route enters the modern rebuilt section of track from 1971 when the railroad was moved to accommodate the construction of US 1. We get to enjoy about a mile and a half of this. Thankfully, the heavily ballasted track has mostly resisted overgrowth and ice plant.
At the top of the grade the routes proceeds around the balloon loop. It looks and feels like a holiday tree farm as the pine forest has encroached into the right-of-way.
Finally, the grand view offered as the route rounds the Balloon Loop. This was built to turn military trains to operate in the opposite direction so they could proceed towards the mainline at Castroville.