This summer we are offering guided handcar tours across the Monterey Branch Line through Fort Ord Dunes State Park. These are handcars, meaning you provide the physical effort using your legs and arms to propel the rail vehicle. Each handcar can carry up to four participants, but we require at least two participants over 16 years of age. Each participant must be at least 50 inches tall and under 275 pounds.
Tours begin at the corner of Palm Drive and Marina Avenue, in the City of Marina. After you receive a personalized safety briefing our tour group consisting of 12 handcars will depart south towards Fort Ord Dunes State Park. You will be led by trained guides to the front and rear, with speeds varying between 7 and 10 mph for the duration of the excursion. The tour is approximately an hour long, and covers six miles of the Monterey Branch Line.
Choose your team wisely
An important consideration is this experience is not a ride. There are no electric motors or gasoline engines to help you across the route. You will experience the branch line just as railroads worker did in 1890. It is up to your chosen team to propel your handcar over the route by finding friends and family that are capable of the challenge. When choosing your team you will want to consider the physical capability and limitation of your team members. If you do not exercise regularly, then the six mile route may be difficult for you. For each passive participant there should be a strong participant to pick up the slack.
Leaving the station in Marina there is a short downhill section before the line climbs a steep 1.7% grade. Getting up this 1/4 mile long grade will take collective teamwork, but it will be all over in less than 4 minutes. At the top of the hill the tracks drop down a short grade before leveling off. You will find that propelling over the next mile of track is pretty easy. Approaching the adjacent Imjin Parkway freeway exit the familiar clickity clack track sound ceases and the ride becomes quite smooth. In 1971 the railroad was moved towards the ocean to make way for Highway 1 freeway construction. The newly relocated railroad was built to the highest mainline standards that included extensive grading, a deep roadbed, and continuous welded ribbon rail void of rail joints. At the 8th street bridge the railroad climbs for about 3/4 of a mile. Formerly, there was a steep grade here, but the rebuilt railroad smoothed it down to just over 1%.
At the summit we take a right turn around the unique balloon loop. In California there are only a handful of these loops in existence and generally they are only found at industrial plants. At the close of World War II the United States Army commissioned the loop track to allow for military trains to turnaround for the purpose of traveling back towards the mainline at Castroville. The loop is nearly level and is exactly one mile in length. Look closely as your car rounds the loop and you will notice steel gauging bars connecting the two rails. This was to prevent heavy steam locomotives from turning over the rails as they rounded the sharp curves. The scenic loop is surrounded by a Monterey Pine forest and there is a spectacular sweeping view of Monterey Bay. Leaving the loop the tour joins the branch line for a mostly downhill trip to Marina.
Our fleet consists of 17 handcars, all crafted by our family in our fully equipped fabrication shop in Santa Clarita, California. Each individual handcar has over 400 hours invested into its construction. We fabricate nearly every part you find on the handcars including the hand crafted wood centered wheels, the cast iron gears, seats, and wood storage boxes. We take pride in providing a special experience that you will never forget.
Space is extremely limited and we expect demand to outstrip available space. If our excursions are sold out we recommend you join our mailing list as we will continually add additional tours dates as the summer progresses. Obtaining qualified guides has been challenging as there is a severe labor shortage during the summer of 2021 and we are adding tours only after we can guarantee adequate staffing.