Back in 2009, Brea community meetings were held to find a way to convert the city’s abandoned rails into trails for walking, running and biking, instead of places where people dumped trash after dark. This resulted in the Tracks at Brea, a section of old railroad tracks that was turned into a four-mile trail, consisting of a two-lane paved bikeway and a separate decomposed gravel footpath for pedestrians. Here in Fullerton, there is a stretch of discontinued Union Pacific (U.P.) train tracks that would make for an excellent conversion into a hiking trail.
A Union Pacific line breaks off by the former Hunt Branch library and runs up through what used to be the old Bastanchury Ranch, eventually making its way into La Habra. The line is discontinued for miles with signs posted on several street crossing signals, which read, “Tracks Out of Service.” From the main line, past what used to be the Hunts tomato sauce factory, the Union Pacific train tracks cross a wooden trestle bridge that passes over Brea Creek on the way to the area behind Bastanchury Park.
“This line used to service the Hunts tomato sauce factory; its only customer. Vegetable oil came from Los Angeles on this line as recently as the 1980s,” according to the Fullerton Walks webpage for the U.P. Trail. However, in the early 1990s, according to a photo caption from RailPictures.net, the U.P. line south of Fullerton was taken out of service. Even though the tracks are now no longer used by trains, the tracks and 20 feet on either side still belong to Union Pacific. An old map of the rail lines through Fullerton shows that this section of tracks was put in around 1923, which is proven by the date “1922” stamped on the rails.
Through the Sunny Hills area, the Union Pacific Hunts line winds its way through the wooded hills and runs parallel to Bastanchury Road. The line eventually ends up crossing Imperial Highway, and moving further north over East Lambert Road before curving around the area behind the Home Depot on Harbor Boulevard to join a single-customer active rail line that moves west into Los Angeles and dead ends going east where the “Tracks at Brea” trail begins. If the abandoned U.P. rails were to be converted into a trail, the path would most likely start around Bastanchury Park and continue along the tracks until Imperial Highway, since, past Imperial, it is still used by Union Pacific.
In fact, with the help of Harold Benash, President of the Fullerton Train Museum and Director of the Southern California Railway Plaza Association, and David Norris of the Fullerton Train Museum, I learned that the Los Angeles & Salt Lake (a Union Pacific subsidiary) extended the branch into Fullerton from Whittier via La Habra in 1922. Norris wrote via email, “The branch was extended into Anaheim in 1923 and terminated there. The line was cut back from Anaheim south of old Lincoln (now Center) to just north of La Palma in about 1987.” He explained that in 1994 the line was then cut back even further “to the Hunt’s Food plant at Basta to eliminate the crossing of ATSF at grade for which UP bore much of the cost.” However, when the flour mill proposal by Conagra (Hunt’s successor) was voted down by the City Council at the time, manufacturing and processing was reduced and eventually eliminated to the joy of most local residents. Norris also noted that the Hunt plant produced Wesson oil when it was a full-time processor, explaining that the plant came to be used primarily as a distribution center resulting in reduction in train car loads.
“Union Pacific looked at the bottom line and about ten years ago decided to turn over its business to BNSF. The line was taken out of service, but not abandoned,” said Norris. “Crossing protection was deactivated and later removed but the tracks are still in place. If the line was formally abandoned, the track would be removed. UP still own the property.”
Through the Sunny Hills area, the Union Pacific Hunts line winds its way through the wooded hills and runs parallel to Bastanchury Road. The line eventually ends up crossing Imperial Highway, and moving further north over East Lambert Road before curving around the area behind the Home Depot on Harbor Boulevard to join a single-customer active rail line that moves west into Los Angeles and dead ends going east where the “Tracks at Brea” trail begins. If the U.P. rails were to be converted into a trail, the path would most likely start around Bastanchury Park and continue along the tracks until Imperial Highway, since, past Imperial, it is still used by Union Pacific.
Parking at Bastanchury Park and walking on the sidewalk next to a white fence running along Malvern, I turned right next to the “Tracks Out of Service” sign and stepped onto the tracks, photographing a section where the line split. Before starting my walk, I made sure I had my mask in my pocket just in case I encountered another person along the close-quartered, narrow walkway. It was an early, semi-cool morning in June when I stepped over the tracks and turned right onto a short, well-maintained trail that must have been put in by the housing developer who built the homes on the hill in that area. This dirt path ran along the hill, surrounded by various drought-resistant plants, and allowed me a view of the train tracks below. It ended at Hughes Drive, about a quarter of a mile from where it started off Malvern.
The short trail took me back down to the same level as the Union Pacific line, which I continued to follow. The tracks led across Hughes Drive and through a shadier area bordering the privately owned Senna Tree nursery. There was a fenced-in area to the left of the tracks with a tall electrical tower. An unofficial trail ran along the right side of the train tracks, which clearly hadn’t been maintained for a long time, since it was partly overgrown with fallen trees blocking sections of the tracks and path. At one point, I even had to climb over a fallen tree trunk to continue walking on the trail. There was another path down below the hillside that ran through the tree nursery. Looking down, I saw that the trees lining the dirt trail below had grown out of their pots. According to Fullerton Walks, “this part of the tree nursery has been abandoned to the county for maintenance.” Moving forward on the train tracks, I encountered another fallen tree trunk blocking the tracks further up.
Passing by the main section of the Bastanchury tree nursery, the U.P. tracks continued by the Sunny Hills High School agricultural teaching area and over Parks Road to another area with a lot of trees. By the time I reached the area right before Sunny Hills, the sun was directly overhead and it was getting way too warm, so I turned back and drove, tracking where the Union Pacific tracks led. Further east, the rail line ran across Euclid. Crossing Euclid, the line went past an animal hospital and horse stables.
The Union Pacific line continued to follow Bastanchury until it curved into an area with neighborhoods on either side. On a different day, I continued my walk, following the tracks, and eventually ending up under a train trestle. Passersby on the Juanita Cooke Trail above wouldn’t even know that they were walking or riding on top of a solid, steel bridge if it wasn’t for the rusted railing on the side. If they looked down from where they were walking, they would see the old Union Pacific line. It was at this point that the the train tracks became half covered in overgrown vegetation. At one point along the hike, I came across drought-resistant plants where a group of birds scattered in a flurry as I approached closer, demonstrating how infrequently people actually walk along the out of service railroad tracks. The line turned a corner and eventually ended up passing underneath a bridge that allowed for a way underneath Harbor Boulevard. This bridge was extremely tall compared to the trestle I’d just walked under, and I could hear the sound of cars driving on the road above. There happened to be quite a lot of graffiti underneath this particular bridge.
Beyond the bridge, the tracks continued past the Fullerton Golf Course. I could see the hospital in the distance. It was at this point that I turned around again. Back at my car, I drove over to the spot where the U.P. line crossed Imperial Highway and came across a sign marking this section of the tracks as part of private property. The tracks continued north from the Imperial Highway intersection into La Habra.
If the U.P. Hunt Branch line were converted into a hiking trail, the ground would need to be inspected and most likely, there would be arsenic-contaminated soil (caused by the Union Pacific Railroad after centuries of use), since that is what was found when Brea converted their Union Pacific tracks into trails. However, the out of service U.P. railroad tracks would make for an excellent hiking trail because it would allow Fullerton residents another place to experience nature with minimal environmental impact. If these tracks were turned into an official trail, it would be safer to walk along and there would be added health benefits for those who bike, hike or walk along the path. The U.P. Hunts line would also become a source of community identity and pride, a place where a trail or greenway could highlight historic and cultural resources related to the rail line which once existed here in Fullerton.
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