This page is one in a series on the buildout of an N scale model railroad depicting the Cajon Pass area in Cajon, California. We are modeling from roughly CP Walker to Sullivan’s Curve.  You can find the main table of contents for all the articles in the series HERE.

Welcome to Model 160 and we hope you enjoy the project!


In conjunction with our N scale Scenic Subdivision Project, it’s time to start flushing out the Cajon Pass Project. Both of these layout projects are part of a basement workshop layout that I’m building primarily for Model 160 content.  These layout projects should give us some different content, scenery, varying prototype locations, plus a variety of photography locations.  I jokingly call it A Tension Dephasit Railroad, but there is some truth to that. I have a wide variety of equipment from a wide assortment of eras and locations – as happens when you like trains. Plus I enjoy jumping from one task to another to mix things up a bit. The overall game plan so far is to build out a desert southwest location (Cajon Pass) a mountain scenery location (Scenic Sub Project) and most likely 2-3 more sections featuring some east coast flavor, some urban and some switching. I have additional space to do something more specifically themed in the future, but for now these will keep me plenty busy and should provide a wide variety of fun N scale projects to share with everyone.

So the next “project” section is Cajon Pass. Cajon Pass is located East and North of the Los Angeles area in California:

Cajon Pass is a mountain pass (elevation 3,777 feet) between the San Bernardino Mountains and the San Gabriel Mountains located in the Mojave Desert. The California Southern Railroad was the first to build lines through the pass in the early 1880’s. Route 66 also ran through this area and there are still remnants of it that you can drive on today. Both BNSF and Union Pacific operate trains through this area and when combined with the stunning scenery makes for great rail fanning:

The original California Southern line built in the 1880’s became part of the ATSF and had grades as steep as 3% making it tough for long trains and dangerous as well. A second track was built in 1913 that is 2 miles longer and has better 2.2% grades (still significant grades though). A third track was added giving the BNSF a total of 3 tracks versus Union Pacific’s 1, however the railroads have trackage rights agreements in place and frequently work together as this line is extremely important for both railroads. More than 150 trains per day can pass through this area.

The part we plan to model is the bit from roughly I-15 through CP Walker past Mormon Rocks and down to Sullivan’s Curve. Here is the satellite view:

A 3D view of the project area:


And our N scale track plan for this project:

The scenery through this area is stunning and if you ever get a chance to see it in person, I highly recommend it. This is one of the few places you’ll find where the prototype almost literally looks like a model railroad in real life. The scenery and terrain dictates that trains wind in and out of cuts, between rock formations and around sweeping curves.  Here is a video showing an overview of the area we plan to model:

On the surface of it, this seems like it would be an obvious location to model. The curves lend themselves to a model railroad, plus the scenery is intriguing and fun. You have two Class 1 railroads running through this area and a ton of history. This is all part of the many reasons I wanted to try and model this area – particularly in N scale. That said, let’s look at those curves for a moment…   Here is Sullivan’s Curve on Google Earth with a measurement across the width:

1,800 feet. Using our N Scale Conversion Tool HERE,  that 1,800 feet is 11.25″ feet across in N scale. Even if that were compressed to half that size, that’s still 5 and a half feet across. Yikes. Some realization has set in that this may be a little tough to compress and still capture well. I’ve dedicated 48 inches across to work with (my limit with the aisle width), but that means we will still need to compress both the BNSF and UP mainlines in that space. These were both single track in the beginning and a second track on each railroad line was added over time. Our model will feature the BNSF dual mainline and a single UP mainline to buy us a little more real estate. We also want to feature the stunning scenery and rock formations seen in this outstanding photo by George Trüb, so we need to leave room behind the tracks for this:

Hopefully we can capture the scale of this curve without it feeling too cramped. Fingers crossed…   We’ll talk more about each of the scenic areas of this project as we move through construction. The varied terrain, scenic materials, rock formations, bridges, desert washes and more should add a lot of variation and make for a fun project.

Since staging is already constructed as part of the Scenic Sub project, we’ll start this project with cantilevered benchwork using shelf brackets in our next installment. Thanks for reading…



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Cajon Pass Table of Contents Cajon Pass Project Part 1