Last Days of the Burbank Branch

Southern Pacific "Van Nuys Local" Derailment May 1991

By Michael Frezell

In May 1991, two friends from the Santa Susana Model Railroad Club, and I decided to photograph the "Van Nuys Local" on the Burbank Branch. At this time Southern Pacific was in negotiations with the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission (LACTC) to sell the branch for a future mass transit project. I knew the days were numbered for both freight service on the line and my residence in Los Angeles. So we went on a hunt for the elusive "Van Nuys Local" one Saturday morning.

We started our journey in Canoga Park and headed east on Victory Blvd to follow tracks. Our hunt ended quickly as I saw the local approaching Balboa Blvd. in Van Nuys. I immediately made a right turn on Balboa Blvd as the local with two Southern Pacific 1500 switchers crossed the road.

Little did I know this was not going to be a normal day's work for the local. As the train slowly crossed Balboa Blvd., I notice one of the boxcars leaning a strange angle. I then realized the train just had derailed in front of me. I yelled to my friends, "Oh my god, the train has derailed!" Fearing the derailed boxcars would fall on cars, at the crossing, I put my Chevy S-10 Blazer in reverse and moved safely away. Fortunately, the crew stopped the train in time before the crossing.

With cameras in hand, we got the following great shots of derailment that happened in front of us and a few days later I got shots of the recovery locomotives!

Southern Pacific SW1500 # 2477 leads the westbound "Van Nuys Local" past the Balboa Ave. crossing in May 1991. Several boxcars had just derailed east of the crossing.

Another shot of the two Southern Pacific SW1500's leading the train. SW1500's were common on the Burbank Branch in later years as they were light locomotives for the light rail. The crew pulled the train ahead to clear the Balboa Ave. crossing. The rest of the train can be seen in the background.

A shot of the derailed boxcars.

Another shot of the derailed boxcars. The guy, in the Ford Bronco II, was keeping spectators away from the train. I believe this guy could have been Southern Pacific Railroad Police. You can see a flashing amber light in the back window and whip antenna.

A side shot of the derailed cars. Look at the twisted rail and torn ties!

Several days later a recovery train, with three SW1500's and two GP9's, rounds the "Canoga Park Curve" heading east toward the derailment scene.

The recovery train crosses De Soto Ave. Looking at the condition of the track, with no ballast, it's amazing this train stays on the track.