A railway switchback, also called a zig-zag is a way of climbing hills in difficult country with a minimal need for tunnels and heavy earthworks or trestles. For a short distance (corresponding to the middle leg of the letter "Z"), the direction of travel is reversed, before the original direction is resumed – see diagram right.
The advantages of a switchback include speed and relative cheapness of construction, with no need to worsen the grade of the line, compared to the alternative which almost certainly will require tunnels which are slow and costly to build. Where traffic is modest, a switchback may well be a sensible long term solution. Switchbacks suffer from a number of limitations: the length of the train is limited by the length of track at the top and bottom points and the process is slow.
There were but two switchbacks along the Mendocino Coast both at Albion. The Albion mills' railroad had to traverse rugged country and used a "switchback" to climb up a steep grade. You can see the two switch backs located between Dunn and Keane's Summit on the map left.
Unfortunately we have been unable to find any photographs of the Albion switchbacks. The two photosright provide an idea of what a switchback looked like.
You can ride a switchback if you take the ride at Roaring Camp and Big Trees – there is one halfway up the Redwood Steam Train Forest line.
We know it is along way to go but you can also ride several switchbacks if you totter off to India and ride the famous Darjeeling line – read all about it here.