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Former Railroad Tracks turned into Bike and Hiking Trails in Orange County

by Chris Guenzler

I found that the Venta Spur Trail was opened, Elizabeth and I invited Marty and Greg Smith to walk the trail where I once rode a train. I told them about my experience as we walked the whole trail over two weekends in Jaunary 2021 after we had ridden the train. David Aten joined us on the first Sunday.

The Santa Fe Venta Spur History

This abandoned railway was a branch from the Santa Fe's Fullerton-San Diego line. It headed northeast for couple of miles and then turned southeast for a few miles. It served packing houses at stations called Myford, Browning, Frances and Kathryn, named for family members of early business owners. The spur also had a separate branch to Tustin.

These lines survived at least as late as the 1960s and the spur lasted until the mid-1980s. At one time it had a girder bridge across the Golden State Freeway (I-5), complete with Santa Fe heralds, but that bridge was removed when the freeway was widened. The section near the junction with the San Diego line is private property and is used as an underground utility corridor. The central portion is completely obliterated with residences. The end of the line, between Frances and Kathryn, can still be traced with a paved path.

A ride: Santa Ana to the Irvine Spur then onto Kathryn 1972

It was an S-4 1536, caboose and box car that gave me my first unexpected train ride in my life. Back in my early days of railfanning I would ride my bicycle down to Santa Ana to see what was going on. One day after a good rain storm the local crew saw me and asked if I would like to go for a ride that would take a couple of hours. Since I had nothing better to do, I said yes and the conductor lifted my bicycle into the caboose with me following. He told me to sit up in the cupola as he had some paperwork to do before we left. I saw the brakeman out throwing the switch to the siding and a moment later our train started moving. The conductor told me we would run south down the siding to Irvine where we would wait for San Diegan 75 to blow by us at 90 MPH. We rolled down the siding with me in heaven enjoying the view from the cupola. We crossed Red Hill Avenue and then the twin blimp hangers came into view. We slowly approached a red signal and came to a stop at Tustin. Way down the track I could see a headlight and it approached rapidly. It was a thrill to be standing still when 75 blew by us and the caboose shook. The crew went and threw the switch and we pulled out onto the mainline and the crew rethrew the switch and we rolled west a short distance before stopping. A few minutes later the brakeman threw a switch and with the caboose leading, we entered the Irvine Spur. We slowly rolled north through the orange groves and minutes later was crossing over the Santa Ana Freeway on a bridge that I had always travelled under until today. We made our way north to Browning where we turned east through more orange groves by Myford before rolling through Frances. It was really an enjoyable experience to be doing this trip as even then, I knew that this branch line wouldn't be here forever as houses were beginning to be built and the groves torn out. We reached Kathryn and the crew pulled up and cut off the caboose in order to spot the box car. I watched this whole event and it was a thrill to see that Alco chug by with the engine's unique sound. All too quickly the car was spotted and the Alco chugged by before backing up to collect the caboose. The crew then got off the engine and had a short meeting. We returned the way we came to Browning where we came to a stop. The conductor then informed me we would make a side trip into Tustin for the heck of it. The switch was thrown and again with the caboose leading, we headed west into Tustin. Once we arrived there, the crew walked over to a store with me just enjoying my caboose experience. Once the crew returned, we returned to the Fourth District and after the switch was thrown, we went east back to Irvine where we waited for the switch to be thrown before we headed back to Santa Ana. We arrived back into the house track and the conductor unloaded my bicycle with me all smiles. I said thank you to the entire crew and then I rode home one happy young railfan with an incredible story to tell. Now back to the present.

The Venta Spur Trail travels along the narrow corridor of a former rail spur that began serving the Frances Packing House, a major citrus processing facility, in 1916. Today, the popular trail serves the local neighborhoods. The western portion is shaded and lushly landscaped, while the eastern portion leaves the former rail corridor to parallel neighborhood roads.

The trail cuts across much of Irvine, from the Peters Canyon Trail to State Route 133 near Orange County Great Park. At Jeffrey Road, the trail also connects to the developing Jeffrey Open Space Trail, which extends north to the outer fringes of Irvine.

To reach parking for the Venta Spur Trail from Interstate 5 in Irvine, take the Jeffrey Road exit and head northeast for a mile to Bryan Avenue (Long Meadow). Turn right and take Long Meadow 0.33 miles to the entrance of Woodbury Park.

Jeffrey Road to Eastwood Street

Eastwood Street in Irvine

You cross Yale Street.

Eastwood Street to Westwood Street in Irvine.

Westwood Street in Irvine.

The Venta Spur Plaque in Silkwood Park.

Chris at the Venta Spur Plaque in Silkwood Park.

Marty Smith, Elizabeth and Greg Smith at the Venta Spur Plaque in Silkwood Park.

Venta Spur Plaque in Silkwood Park. Now we will hike to San Diego Creek.

You will cross Matera Street.

At Culver Drive there is a signal to cross the busy road.


The next street to be crossed is Rosenblum Street.

Your last street to cross is Amergosa Street.

We have arrived at San Diego Creek, the west end of the trail.

The mallard ducks in San Diego Creek. We walked back to our car at Silkwood Park.

One of the places you can see the old Santa Fe grade is on Walnut Avenue in Tustin.

This is where the Venta Branch left the Santa Fe Surf Line in Tustin.

Click here for part 2 of the story!