Images of Rail Niles Canyon Railways BY Henry Luna Soft Cover
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Images of Rail Niles Canyon Railways BY Henry Luna Soft Cover
Images of Rail Niles Canyon Railways BY Henry Luna and the Pacific Locomotive Association
Softcover 127 pages
1.Trains of Niles Canyon
2.The Southern Pacific Era
3.Rebuilding the Railroad
4.Niles Canyon Railway
6.Before Niles Canyon
8.The Pacific Locomotive Association
9.Castro Point Railway
Southern Pacific Routes in and around Niles
Bay Area Railroads, 1871
Niles Canyon Railway
This is the pictorial history of the Niles Canyon Railway, plus a look at the other railroads that served Niles Canyon from the first train in 1866 to today. Both the steam and diesel years are included, with special emphasis on the Southern Pacific era. The history and accomplishments of the Pacific Locomotive Association, the volunteer group that has donated hundreds of thousands of hours and dollars to keep the rail history of Niles Canyon alive, and their efforts to preserve historical railroad equipment, are featured as well.
Our story begins in July 1853, when a team from the Benicia Arsenal initially surveyed Niles Canyon as one of three proposed railway routes to the Pacific Coast. President Abraham Lincoln chose the route through Niles Canyon and signed the Pacific Railroad Act in July of 1862, to build a rail line between the Mississippi River anct "the Pacific coast, at or near San Francisco, or the navigable waters of the Sacramento river."
In Sacramento, the "Big Four" as they would later be called-dry goods merchant Charles Crocker, dealers in hardware and blasting powder Collis Huntington and his partner Mark Hopkins, and grocer Leland Stanford-took on the challenge to build the Central Pacific Railroad from the Sacramento waterfront eastward over the Sierra Nevada. At the same time, the Union Pacific Railroad was extending tracks westward from Omaha to meet the Central Pacific. The two Pacific Railroads joined at Promontory, Utah, on May 10, 1869, to become America's first transcontinental rail line. This major development made the West easily accessible for the first time, with the trip to California reduced from weeks to a matter of days. However, to reach San Francisco, where the vast majority of riders were bound, passengers and freight had to be transferred to riverboats at Sacramento for the final portion of the trip.
The Western Pacific Railroad was formed and incorporated in December 1862 to build a railroad from San Jose to Sacramento. A connection at San Jose with a line to San Francisco would complete the transcontinental route, from ocean to ocean. Construction started in 1865. The following year, Western Pacific became the first railroad into Niles Canyon when their first 20-mile section of track was built from San Jose to a point in the canyon just beyond Farwell, where construction halted.
In 1868, the Central Pacific, under the guidance of Stanford, purchased the bankrupt Western Pacific, and in early 1869, started work to complete the line as an extension of their railroad. This was accomplished by building track from Sacramento to Stockton and Tracy, then over Altamont Pass, across Livermore Valley (called Amador Valley at the time), and through Niles Canyon, to connect with track to Alameda. This route, using the WesternPacific tracks in the canyon, was completed on September 6, 1869, just four months after the driving of the Gold Spike in Utah. The terminus was changed to Oakland on November 8 of that year, when three small railroads, including the Western Pacific, were absorbed into the growing Central Pacific system. All trains running in and out of the San Francisco Bay Area passed through scenic Niles Canyon.
The California Pacific Railroad completed a shorter line from Sacramento to Vallejo, with transfers to San Francisco by ferryboat, in 1870. The Central Pacific later purchased the Cal-P, as it was called. Under the name Northern Railway, Central Pacific built a line from Suisun to Benicia. Entire trains were ferried from Benicia across the Carquinez Strait to Port Costa, where the rail line continued to Oakland. This became the transcontinental route of preference, relegating Niles Canyon to secondary status.
Central Pacific grew and, on April Fool's Day 1885, the company reorganized with Southern Pacific replacing Central Pacific as the dominate company, although the corporate name existed on the books until 1959. As a secondary route, the Niles Canyon line wasn't significantly upgraded until around the turn of the century, when the railroad came under the control of Edward H. Harriman. Some track realignments were made, new depots were built at Niles and Pleasanton, new signals were installed along with heavier rails, and steel bridges replaced the original wooden bridges.
A second transcontinental railroad entered Niles Canyon in 1909. Also called the Western Pacific (but not related to the first Western Pacific), it was constructed on the southern side of Alameda Creek through the canyon. Western Pacific's ultimate claim to fame was their famous streamliner California Zephyr, which passed through Niles Canyon daily from 1949 until 1970. Union Pacific, the same company that met the Central Pacific at Promontory in 1869, acquired the Western Pacific in 1981, and absorbed the Southern Pacific as well, in 1996. Union Pacific freight trains and Altamont Commuter Express trains now roll through Niles Canyon, using UP's ex-Western Pacific track.
The year-round waters of Alameda Creek, combined with the natural beauty of oak-studded Niles Canyon, have attracted and delighted the public since the mid-1800s. Special trains carried weekend fun-seekers from San Francisco and Oakland to the canyon for boating, fishing, swimming at favored spots, and dancing at one of the many open-air pavilions. This lasted until the late 1920s and early 1930s, when automobiles became common and the Great Depression curtailed travel. All passenger service was discontinued in 1941.
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