Ventura to Ojai

The Ojai Branch

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(Forwarded from the Ventura & Ojai Valley Railroad)

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This shows the location of Ventura Junction, with the Ventura Amtrak platform (left foreground) and MP 394 marker to the right. A southbound Amtrak Pacific Surfliner has just crossed the Ventura River truss bridge on its approach to this stop. The Ojai line branched off to the right, past the end of the highway retaining wall (US 101 is parallel to the track, behind the trees). Photo by Mike Palmer, April 2003.

This branch line was originally constructed in the 1890s as the Ventura and Ojai Valley Railroad, and was purchased by SP within a few years. (Ojai is pronounced OH-hi.) Most customers were citrus growers and other agricultural businesses.

This line branched off the SP Coast Line at Ventura Junction, which is just west of the existing Amtrak platform at Ventura. The line extended north along the Ventura River, through Chrisman, Wedstrom, Ortonville and Nitroshell to Mira Monte. At Mira Monte the line turned east to the end of the line at Ojai. The northern portion of the branch was abandoned by 1975; the southern part might have lasted a few years longer.

The right-of-way, now owned by the city of Ventura, is easily traced today, as much of it has been converted to a bicycle trail, called the "Ojai Valley Trail" and the "Ventura River Trail".

Frank Maxim provides a Notice of Interim Trail Use filed with the STB for a portion of the line.

Historic ICC Abandonment Filings

SOUTHERN PACIFIC RAILROAD
Docket Number: 25839 Date: 9/2/1969 Section: 1(18)
Application for authority to abandon that portion of its Ojai Branch, Los Angeles Division, between Mile Post 402.68, at or near Canet, and the end of the line at Mile Post 412.42, at Ojai, a distance of 9.74 miles, together with spur tracks, sidings and appurtenances, all within the County of Ventura, State of California.
Length: 9.74 miles Citation:  
SOUTHERN PACIFIC RAILROAD
Docket Number: AB-12 Sub No 151 Date: 10/30/1995 Section: 0
Southern Pacific Transportation Company filed a notice of exemption to abandon 5.38 miles of its Ventura Branch from milepost 397.3, at or near Ventura Junction rail station, to milepost 402.68, at or near the Canet rail station, in Ventura County, CA.
Length: 5.38 miles Citation:  

This past weekend I had the oppertunity to review the abandoned remains of the Ojai branch, there are perhaps 100 feet of of rails remaining near the Stanley Ave. crossing as well, though the crossing is marked,no rails are present, this short section terminates in the parking lot of a large plant of some type, I suspect switch work may still be present embedded in the pavement.To the north one can follow the former ROW up to the freeway embankment. Of additonal interest to me at least, I believe I have located several former packing houses in various states of preservation. I will be back area soon and investigate further

Dave Forsyth
Los Angeles
6/24/2009

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The Ojai Branch lasted in service until at least 1990, up to above Canet at MP 407.1. The rest of the branch was isolated account of the torrential rains that hit Southern California in early 1969, which washed out a bridge. Due to the decline in reefer traffic from Ojai, SP decided not to rebuild the bridge and petitioned for abandonment. The north end of the branch was also an operational nightmare, due to its 3+% grades coming down the canyon. In the '80s, there was a small shipper in a brick building right at the junction which would take a boxcar or two now and then until the switch was removed. The large citrus packing house a block further up the line was also a large shipper in early years, and was served by street trackage. The old Shell refinery further up the line was a big receiver of crude oil and shipper of refined products until it closed in the '70s.

DeserTBoB
Lancaster, CA
4/13/2010

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I was Assistant Trainmaster at Oxnard in 1973 when an accident occurred on the Ventura Branch, killing two of our crewmen, an engineer and conductor (I do not remember their names). Cause of this was kids releasing handbrakes on 62 ft. propane tank cars at Canet (refinery) which began rolling south toward Ventura and junction with Coast Mainline. The Gaviota Local was working upgrade on North side of Ventura when cars ran into locomotive (likely at speed of 50+ mph) destroying 2500 class EMD SW 1500 switcher. Crewmen were killed by exposure to propane which poured from ruptured tank cars. Had the local NOT been present the cars would have rocketed through Ventura, over grade crossings, and likely derailed at high speed, a horrible eventuality. The refinery was a regular customer of the railroad, shipping and receiving about a dozen cars a week, the biggest remaining customer on this branch. I would have loved riding this line into Ojai itself but I arrived on the scene too late, following 1960s floods and washouts of this poorly and inexpensively engineered line.

Bob Oliver
Webster City, IA
2/5/2012

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I am searching for names and contact info for any Conductors who ran trains from Ventura to ojai during the 40's to the 60s'.

JP Pluim
Ventura, CA
3/3/2012

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The engineer that was killed was Tony Emanuel from San Luis Obispo. He was "Burned" (frozen) by the gas. I was the BLE Local Chairman and we had just got the job from the San Joaquin Engineers on a miles owed basis. I worked the job for the first 3 days to see what it entailed then Tony bumped me and bid in the job. One of the days I worked the job we were up the branch switching out tank cars and got a car hung up on a switch and we were stuck behind it. With our caboose down on the main at the Jct so we had to "pole" the car in the clear and get back down the hill. Those kids that killed Tony and that conductor got a slap on their hands and that was it. Wouldn't even let the SP attorneys into the hearing.

Also, the last PFE shippers on the line were talked into a packing house that SP built for them at Santa Susana. That way nobody was left on the branch so they didn't have to rebuild it. You could see the right of way up towards the east switch (70s) that had been staked out and fenced off for years, heading north. Nothing ever came of it.

Nudge
Medford, OR
6/5/2012

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Just a quick correction to Dave Forsyths picture descriptions (and humble because I think his contribution is one of the more complete and informative branch photo essays on this awesome site!), the trackage did not run down Olive street but immediately alongside it. You can in fact clearly see the last part of the curving rails coming off the SP mainline before it straightened to run alongside Olive in the latest HD Satelite photos (Aug 6, 2012) on Google maps (look at the highest magnification and the 1st person view and you can easily see it in front of the Great Pacific Iron Works building, which I also believe is one of the former packing houses looking at the architecture!). BTW, I researched this myself more to confirm my own memories of the line than as a correction. I do vaguely remember thinking I saw some very short street trackage on the line but it was up near the refinery much further down the line in the outskirts/boondocks of town.

Humbly submitted . . .

Dave Grund
Ventura, CA
8/7/2012

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Back in Oct. 1968, what was then Orange Empire Trolley Museum sponsored a fan trip to Ojai. We had an ABA set of FP units, an assortment of SP cars, and OETM's Canadian Pacific Mountain Observation Car 599. The first part of the trip was on the Burbank Branch, with a photo stop where the PE shared track, and then up the Coast Line to Ojai. Getting the train switched for the return trip in the rather cramped yard at Ojai was a bit of railroading the likes of which you probably won't see these days. As I recall, the trip was on Oct. 12, so the theme was "Discover Ojai". I took movies of this excursion, which turned out to be a "never-to-be-repeated" bit of "rare mileage".

Bob Davis
San Gabriel, CA
1/10/2013

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Hi Bob,

I just read your bio on the old Ojai Railroad Line via by SP.

I grew up on the Avenue & I was 11yrs. age when I saw that Saturday Special Train go through the branch...WOW!

I know the entire line perfectly & there was one Wig-Wag Signal around Meiners Oak near Ojai.

It was one block northeast of the Hwy 150 split from Hwy 33 to Santa Barbara (or Carpenderia to SB).

I remember the '69 floods perfectly. The Main St. Bridge was vibrating with all that water.

I also remember the remains of the Rail Track that curved from the Mill School to the Ventura Ave. road way to close to the Ventura River & they just installed a pair of Crossing Gates on the bridge going over the river to Foster Park. The tracks were unendated weave of twisted mess from the rivers' onslought.

Crazy thing, why did they put in a Wig Wag signal in a residential area & not a pair of low-quadrant Wig-Wigs when the tracks cross the busy Hwy. 33 into town?

Well, the main reason for this letter, I am friends with Gino Pagliaro (Sp?) who works for Charles Smiley Productions making Hi-Quality Railroad Videos better than any company that makes them!

Well documented! I have most all of the SP videos.

Gino lives in Goleta, ca & he & Charles have spent tons of time looking for some video & more history of this INCREDIBLE Branch Line which one day I will Model HO line from the Fairgrounds to the proposed going thru the Topa Topa Mountains of Ojai to Bakersfield.

You said that you have movie recorded of that Excursion on Oct. 12, 1968 & Gino & Charles Smiley would be greatful for you to contact and share this info if you already haven't.

Venturas of the past Never took any movies of this line, especially in action!

Thanks Bob!

Lee Jaworski
California
11/14/2014

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The article states that the railroad was converted to the Ojai Valley Trail and the Ventura River Trail, as well as, stating the trails are administered by the City of Ventura. Let me make a correction. The Ventura River Trail runs from Ventura to Foster Park. It is administered by the City of Ventura. The Ojai Valley Trail runs from Foster Park to Ojai and terminates at Soule Park Golf Course. It is administered by the Ventura County Parks Department. I'm a retired Ventura County Park Ranger and, therefore, patrolled the Ojai Valley Trail from before any of the trail was built up to just a little over a year ago. I'm a 65 year old Ojai Valley native, so I've quite familiar with the old railroad and the two trails.

Drew Mashburn
Ojai, CA
11/6/2016

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