Burbank to Chatsworth

The Burbank Branch

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This view faces east in Burbank, at the corner of Chandler Boulevard and California Avenue. The branch ran down the center of Chandler for several miles. This location is about two miles west of CP Olive, where this branch connected with the Southern Pacific's Coast Line. Note the partially dismantled grade crossing signals. Several of the crossings near the east end of the branch still have signals, in various states of disrepair. Photo by Mike Palmer, August 2003.

The 21-mile Burbank Branch, built in 1893, was basically a low-density bypass of the SP Coast Line in the San Fernando Valley region of Los Angeles. Originally, consideration was given for this line to serve as the main route through San Fernando Valley; however, its sharp curves limited speed along the line, prompting SP to build another track across San Fernando Valley, this one with nary a curve between Burbank and Chatsworth. Thus this line served as a true branch for the entirety of its life.

The SP offered passenger service along its route using gas-electric passenger cars up until 1920, when competition from the Pacific Electric Red Car service forced SP's hand. However, the branch was re-opened to passenger service briefly during WWII, carrying wounded soldiers to the VA Hospital located on the line.

With freight service along the line diminishing, the line was severed as a through-route most likely in the late 1980s. Final doom for the line came in 1991 when the entire route was purchased by Los Angeles' Metro Transit Authority. During the following year, SP began phasing out service along the line to the last few remaining customers; now only those at the endpoints of the line (Burbank to North Hollywood, and Chatsworth to Canoga Park) see limited service.

Today, most of the route has been rebuilt by the MTA for their "Orange Line", an express bus service. The buses on this line run in a dedicated right-of-way that follows the original railroad right-of-way very closely. This service opened in 2005 to opposition from some who thought this area would be better suited for light-rail service using the existing tracks and infrastructure. Nevertheless, the Orange Line continues to see growing success today. Othwerwise, a short rail stub remains at the Chatsworth (west) end, which is sometimes used to store maintenance equipment.

From east to west, the line branched off at what is now "CP Olive", in Burbank, just south (railroad east) of Burbank Junction. The line then passed through North Hollywood, Van Nuys, Encino, Tarzana, Canoga Park, and then reconnected to the SP Coast Line at Chatsworth.

I lived in the San Fernando Valley from the late 50's to 2004. I remember being at LA Pierce College in Woodland Hills and watching the trains going by across Victory Blvd. We would sometimes stand on the sidewalk by the tracks and pump our fists up and down when the locomotives came by - so the engineers would sound the air horns.

Some trivia: where the tracks crossed Devonshire St by Owensmouth in northern Canoga Park (now Chatsworth), there was a little sandwich stand. The engineers would stop the trains just south of the crossing and while on idle, hop down and drop in for a bite to eat (not much traffic on that line). The place got a lot of their business from the train crews for many years. Last time I saw the place was in the late 90's - still in business at the time.

Scott
Las Vegas, NV
12/10/2011

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The spur at the SW intersection of Victory Blvd and Woodley Ave was created for a cold war Air Force Communications Center and Nike Missile base. There were 2 sub-surface silos for missile launch pads. The site is now a National Guard Armory.

Scott
Las Vegas, NV
12/10/2011

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As of 2011, all of this stuff is gone. The line from North Hollywood (Lankershim and Chandler) up to Warner Center (Victory and Canoga Av.) was replaced by the Metro Orange Line (bus transitway...should have been a light rail passenger line, but, that's a long, long story involving politics at many levels of government). The rest of the line, north to Chatsworth, was ripped out by 2010 and the Orange Line extended up to the Metrolink station in Chatsworth (SP Line). (Almost) all the construction along the ROW has been demolished (mostly industrial facilities, used car lots, and that sandwich shop). The ancient bridge over the LA River in your photo has also been taken out and a new one is being built. The ROW from Lankershim east to Burbank has been replaced as of 2005 or so by a rail trail (pedestrian/bikeway). Orange Line extension to Chatsworth is supposed to be in use by early 2013.

Scott M.
Winnetka, CA
12/14/2011

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The busway extension is already in service and indeed, the remaining track got ripped out. A real shame for what could have been a light rail line.

leo giron
oxnard, CA
7/10/2012

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I live just seconds away from the bike path that now lays where the lines use to run along Chandler. I went walking down the remaining set of tracks in Burbank at Victory BLVD and found a few very old railroad nails. The tracks are still there and they run into the MetroLink line. It's really cool to walk them and think of the history they have. There is also a set of bridges going over the water paths that connect to the LA river. Just overall very neat to walk and photograph. Check out the rail road nails and what I do with them at EnjoyMyPhoto.com - Thanks in advance!

Brandon Turner - BMTPhoto.com
North Hollywood, CA
10/10/2012

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I grew up a few miles from the National Guard Armory - my father served at that armory for a couple of years. There are/were a bunch of little league fields south of the branch line and the L.A. River east of White Oak Avenue, south of Victory Boulevard. I played a season of little league on the site, and remember at least one short mixed SP freight with a caboose slowly rolling over the bridge over the concrete banks of the river. As was written, this was truly a spur - little if any traffic, unlike the Coast Line main with the multiple daily SP freights.

SoCalCynic
Behind The Orange Curtain, CA
11/13/2012

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What was probably the last passenger train to run over this line was an excursion sponsored by what was then Orange Empire Trolley Museum in Oct. 1968. We took the Burbank Branch to the junction at Chatsworth and then the Coast Line to Ventura, where we went up the Ojai Branch to Ojai. One of our photo stops was near Colfax Ave., where rail bonds left over from the days of joint PE-SP operation were still in place. Soon some the residents of the apartment houses on the south side of Chandler Blvd. noticed the unusual sight of a Southern Pacific passenger train on their neighborhood track and came out to see what was going on. Someone in the gathering of railfans called out "Can you tell us which way is El Paso? I think we're lost!"

Bob Davis
San Gabriel , CA
9/1/2014

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I used to live on DeSoto Ave and Vanowen St corner on a two story house right before crossing the LA River. I remember some nights I could here the train horn all the way from Victory Blvd. On some rare times I could here it late at night or early in the morning. I remember crossing both ends of the SW curve on Victory Blvd (when I used to go to Parkman Middle school) and Canoga Ave (when I went to Canoga Park High School). The neat thing about the west side of the curve is that I used to walk next to the old Rockwell facility (which is now gone I think) and seeing engineers and sometimes important people go in some days. A shame that the rail was pulled out and wish I had kept some of the fragmented rails that I saw when they started to pull out the rails in 1997.

Reo Cruz
Katy (originally from Sylmar, CA), TX
4/23/2016

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Some of the people in the San Fernando Valley are agitating to have Metro replace the Orange Line busway (which follows much of the Burbank Branch) rebuilt as a light-rail line. They had their chance back in the 1990s, but some of their politicians, along with local NIMBYs torpedoed any idea of extending the Red Line subway as a surface line. Too bad, they now have to get in line behind the folks who wanted rail in the first place.

Bob Davis
San Gabriel, CA
4/23/2016

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