Wendel to Alturas

The Modoc Line

Point of Interest

GOOGLE MAPS no longer available: With apologies, I am unable to continue showing Google Maps. Google has forced my hand by increasing their map usage fee from nothing/free to OVER $300 A MONTH for the Abandoned Rails website! This is an expense that I simply cannot afford. Rest assured I am looking at available open source alternatives, so maps should be back online soon!

Greg Harrison

(Forwarded from the Nevada-California-Oregon Railroad)

Showing of

This is what is left of the US 395 grade crossing at Likely, CA. Discarded rails are at the side of the right of way. Photo by Craig Bass, June 2003.

Commonly known as the "Modoc Line", this route ran through remote ranch land and high deserts in northeastern California, far from any population centers. The line was originally constructed as the narrow-gauge Nevada-California-Oregon (N-C-O), and SP converted the line to standard gauge when they acquired it. It was intended as a shortcut from SP's line in Oregon between California and the northwest to the SP Overland Route (Transcontinental RR) in Nevada; when the route was active the line continued southwest from Wendel to a connection with the SP Overland route at Flanigan, NV.

Shortly after the Union Pacific merger in 1995, due to both the lack of freight volume and the line's routing through remote territory, the segment between Alturas and Wendel was abandoned in 1996. As of June, 2003, the tracks are still in place as far south as Bayley siding in California. Between Alturas and Bayley, the tracks are used for freight car storage, with reporting marks from many of the companies UP has acquired over the years. Near the grade crossing with US Route 395 at Likely (see photo), a switch broom was still attached to a relay cabinet, but the switch itself had been removed. Also in the area, a field is being used by A-K Railroad Materials to stockpile recovered ties for sale. Further south, at Sage Hen Hill, stacks of ties line the right-of-way. From Madeline south, the ties, tieplates and most of the spikes remain, while the rails appear to have been removed just days earlier.

The northern segment from Alturas to the line's northern terminus at Klamath Falls, OR, remains in service by a shortline operator.

Thanks to Mike Palmer and Craig Bass for contributing information about this route.

The final remnants have been completely removed from Wendel Road to Alturas Farms, approximately 6 miles south of Alturas, CA. While the bridges and roadbed remain, the grade crossings with US 395 have been paved over. The Sierra Pacific Lumber Company tracks that connected the SPI Mill in Susanville to the Southern Pacific in Wendel were removed also, in the summer of 2007. All of the grade crossings have been paved over as well.

Ken Woolington
Susanville, CA


Russell Dye, we need some help advice,at Del Norte Fairgrounds, regarding moving some track and ties short distance 10 feet, and a caboose. Can you help? 465-1575

Joe Lacey
Fort Dick, CA


Who do I talk to about the steel rails, and can I buy them?

Beau Kenan
Susanville, CA


What if you had too much monie and you wanted to run a train from

susanville to fernily again? could you buy it up...

dick van hoosear
Lassen co., CA


The present northern terminus of the southern segment (June) is approximately MP 360.1, just north of Wendell. There is a spike puller sitting halfway down, although the rails stand. At Wendell, a leaky water tower and overgrown wye remain. Additionally the yard, exposed buildings, and radio towers/dishes remain. An affiliate of A&K Railroad Materials (no surprise) has been warehousing the track hardware in place until sold.

It is worth noting that there was proposal to build a packing plant(?), however this business decided to go elsewhere. No potential shippers exist.

Nicholas Todd
Las Vegas, NV


This is one line (the NWP being another) that should've been abandoned long before it was. The only real on-line traffic that was generated on this thing was livestock (prior to 1960) and very little agricultural shipments. The entire N-C-O was a failure account of lack of on-line business from the start, and it never did reach its intended northern terminus of The Dalles, only reaching Klamath Falls. SP, who was then already planning the Cascade, thought they might have a cutoff route through Alturas that would stop UP from expansion into eastern Oregon and California as well as providing them with a cutoff to get Oregon lumber eastward without further clogging Donner. All in all, the Modoc was standard guaged really as a deterent to both UP and GN, and nothing more. Turns out UP knew there wasn't much to be gained in that area and never mounted a challenge. It was also thought to be a competitor for the WP-GN "Inside Gateway", which never amounted to much, either. The WP-GN-ATSF project was intended to compete with SP for north-south traffice, but it never really paid off. Once the lumber traffic from Oregon was gone, there was simply no further reason to keep this one around.

Lancaster, CA


Desert Bob - Great explanation. Made me think of a quote from Trains Magazine about the possibility of modernizing steam power: "There is nothing as romantic as a lost cause." Preservation is great, but some things just need to pass on. - Don

Don Lenz
Cleveland, OH


No Bob, POOR explanation, the NWP is running again from Schellville to Healdsburg, and will be reopened to Willtis by 2015. SMART is starting up passenger service in 2015 between San Rafael and Santa Rosa, with service to be expanded south to Larkspur and north to Cloverdale soon after. There happens to be PLENTY of traffic up here in NW CA, and more is coming online all the time. I don't know where you got your info, but it's horribly mistaken and out of date. You really need to check out this site, learn young jedi, learn :)




Michael Cook
Redwood Valley, CA


Oops, I mean Willits. I live in Redwood Valley, halfway between Ukiah and Willits. The new NWP is an awesome company, ran by railroaders with decades of experience, and it shows in the line. SMART owns the line from Healdsburg south, and the North Coast Railroad Authority owns it from there north. NWP contracts with SMART and the NCRRA to provide freight service.

Michael Cook
Redwood Valley, CA


We just pulled up the line from Wendel south.

Vine Creek, KS


Michael Cook waxes romantic about the NWP, but he fails to recognize that the only reason that NWP is currently operating at all is because of tons of taxpayer money via SMART and NCRA from the state. As a private enterprise that makes money, the NWP was a loser all the way back to the Great Depression, having somewhat of a reprive during the 1950s housing boom. ATSF saw the writing on the wall back then and bailed out, leaving SP to lose billions on the most expensive-to-maintain railroad in the country. I believe that reopening to Willits is a pipe dream, as there is no traffic to be gained from there. Most certainly, the Eel River segment to Eureka will never be repaired. Everything north of Healdsburg would be gone already if it weren't for the "North Coast Railroad" scam and the fact that NCRA would have to rebuild the line just to scrap it. NWP will continue to also face "nimbys" who don't want trains running up there...it'll interfere with their only reason to live, huffing pot and being high. Telling is the fact that even Gov. Brown is considering chopping NCRA as a waste of taxpayer money. All NCRA is really doing right now is making envirnmental impact report firms rich...nothing else. There's certainly no revenue being produced, as the freight tonnage currently being carried doesn't even cover operating costs.



The NCO ran from West Reno to Wendel to Alturas and on to Lakeview (not Klamath Falls. SP bought the NCO, put in standard gauge and built the Alturas to Klamath Falls connection

Klamath Falls


Now the once mighty N.C.O.[joke]is now a hiking trail operated by the Rails to Trails org. I don't mind people using the area because it is a very nice place to explore. I just keep hoping they would respect the land owners and close the gates behind them. To me cows in the pasture in more than outing, it's my livelihood.

Likely, CA


Michael Cook must be the famous Mike C who used to wax poetic on Altamont Board about the return of the mighty NWP?

While the North Bay does need rail service, and SMART in particular, we will be lucky to see a reload in Ukiah someday. Lets all hope for a rebirth of the SF&NPC!

Alfred Doten
Humboldt County, CA


I was recently living in UKIAH, and talked to people in the know there and at Willis. There is no way the roadbed can be made to support a railroad and the washed out track will never be repaired north of Willis. Just last year most all of the remaining rails were taken up within the city of UKIAH to make way for a waking pathway. The rains in that climate will never allow a stable roadbed for track north of Willis, the last washout twenty-some years ago convinced them and that is only worse now.

Vern Davidson
California, now but retired SP, CO


Shortened Link: http://a-r.us/r9q

Do you have any pictures or information about The Modoc Line? Please . You will get credit for anything you contribute.