The construction of Wright’s Tunnel began in the fall of 1878, and was placed between Wright’s Station and Laurel. South Pacific Coast Railroad company commissioned the route through the San Lorenzo Valley. 100 Chinese workers were recruited to complete the work in a timely manner.
Construction took two years because of turnover. This path experienced many hardships from the very beginning, and was doomed to fail for several reasons.
First, the mountain they bore through contained methane, which began leaking into the tunnel. After some amount of buildup, the methane gas was ignited by a dynamite blast used to bore through the tunnel, and a cave-in occurred. Thirty-two Chinese workmen lost their lives, and many others were injured, including those brave enough to rush in in an attempt to save their fellow workers. After this event, a new crew of Chinese workers were recruited as the previous crew refused to work under such dangerous conditions.
Second, the tunnel was built in a place where runoff water collected. This caused major flooding and erosion of materials. In the 1890’s, after one end of the tunnel collapsed, a concrete archway was put in place and a water diversion was created to steer the water runoff away from the tunnel. This diversion was very effective and flooding became much less of an issue.
Third, the tunnel was built directly over the San Andreas fault line. This caused landslides that have damaged the tunnel and caused it to shift by as much as 5 feet.
Wright’s Tunnel was opened in 1880. During the tunnels dedication no mention was made of the sacrifices made by Chinese workers. The many deaths of the Chinese went unacknowledged for many years and remains forgotten. Contributions and the many sacrifices of Chinese workers must be brought to light in order to better tell the story of the history of the United States. In a time when anti-Chinese sentiment was rampant, these workers persevered and many lost their lives as a result.
The tunnel was constantly repaired for 20 years following its completion, and all four tunnels along the Santa Cruz mountains were ultimately shut down in 1942 due to decline in use and disrepair. Nature has since reclaimed the tunnel; water has now rerouted back to its original flow location at the mouth of the tunnel, and vegetation has overtaken the area. The tracks were removed, and the tunnel dynamited leaving rubble. Only the portals at each end can be seen.