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Science Channel spotlights marvel in San Diego’s back yard

Railway bridge was key in connecting San Diego to Yuma, Ariz., providing our region an intercontinental rail link to the East Coast.

A train engine from Carrizo Gorge Railway that departed Jacumba Train Depot pulls a single passenger train across the Goat Canyon train trestle in 2003. (Nelvin C. Cepeda/Union-Tribune)

What San Diego County landmark is 200 feet high, 600 feet long, an architectural marvel — and abandoned?

What is the largest curved all-wooden trestle on Earth?

If you guessed the Goat Canyon Trestle in southeast San Diego County near the Mexican border, you get a double gold star.

This railway bridge — an intricate spider web of wooden beams whose construction began in 1932 — was key in connecting San Diego to Yuma, Ariz., providing our region an intercontinental rail link to the East Coast.

This engineering marvel captured the attention of Science Channel producers, who have made it the first attraction featured on its April 20 10 p.m. premiere of its new six-episode series, “Mysteries of the Abandoned.”

The Goat Canyon Trestle railroad bridge, part of the Desert Line railroad line. (Nelvin C. Cepeda/Union-Tribune)

What has been dubbed the “Impossible Railroad” was the dream of San Diego pioneer developer John D. Spreckels. The trestle was built on the San Diego & Arizona Eastern Railway by an army of workers facing daunting engineering obstacles and treacherous conditions, including heat, drought and rock slides in the desolate mountainous area.

“It screams of the wild West and frontier America,” says episode co-emcee Rob Bell.

Rather than re-route the railroad or rely on a tunnel, the bridge was built to connect two mountain peaks, explained Andrew Gough, the historian and author featured in the series. He said the bridge was chosen from a huge list of amazing engineering feats.

“It was the ego of John Spreckels, who would stop at nothing to put San Diego on the map,” added Gough, who is now in Morocco filming another segment.

He called it a “great example of the can-do American ingenuity” and blind determination to “just do it.” The bridge, built without nails, was designed with a 14-degree curve to withstand the strong winds that whip through the canyon.

It was built during the golden age of railroads and wasn’t abandoned until 1983 as a safety precaution due to threats of earthquake, fire, rock slides and storms.

The TV series recently aired in England under the name “Abandoned Engineering” and “did exceptionally well,” Gough said.

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