San Francisco to Chico

The Sacramento Northern Railroad

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An industrial spur long abandoned in Pittsburg. View is eastward. Photo by Andrew Laverdiere, February 2009.

The Sacramento Northern Railroad, a subsidiary of Western Pacific, came into existence around 1929, and was composed of the Oakland, Antioch & Eastern Railroad (also the San Francisco-Sacramento Railroad, originally the Oakland and Antioch Railway), and the Northern Electric Interurban; each of these former lines were in service as early as 1900. Originally electrified, the line converted to diesel in the 1960s. The SN disappeared when Western Pacific was merged into Union Pacific in 1982.

When the Bay Bridge opened between San Francisco and Oakland, Sacramento Northern trains used the tracks on the lower deck. The tracks on the bridge have been gone for decades, but the subject of rebuilding a transit line there is raised from time to time. Meanwhile, most of the mainline and branches have been abandoned, some segments are still in use or were rebuilt for new uses:

1. Yolo Shortline runs the line from Woodland through West Sacramento south to Tasco.

2. Sacramento's Light Rail line was rebuilt over the right-of-way of the Swanston branch northeast of downtown Sacramento.

3. The Western Railway Museum has acquired 20 miles of the former right-of-way between Sacramento and the Bay Area. The volunteers of the WRM rebuilt the track, and re-strung and energized overhead trolley wire along the way, allowing them to run excursions using vintage streetcars and interurbans (see picture below).

4. Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) rebuilt a section through the hills east of Oakland, between Walnut Creek and North Concord.

Rockville Branch: The Sacramento Northern's Rockville Branch served agricultural areas of Solano County. The branch was Y-shaped, and connected to the SN main over tracks that are now operated by the Western Railway Museum. The branch crossed over the Southern Pacific Oakland-to-Sacramento mainline on a bridge, and then divided into two legs. One branch headed north-northwest to Vacaville, while the other headed southwest to Fairfield (near Rockville). These routes were abandoned after packing houses switched to trucks or closed, and the associated farmland was sold to developers.

Montezuma, CA: Just north of the Sacramento Northern's ferry crossing of the Sacramento River at Suisan Bay, the line ran through low-lying marsh land and across sloughs near Montezuma. There are many remains of the former SN in this area.

Thanks to Richard Vantine and Jack Witthaus for contributing information about this route.

Historic ICC Abandonment Filings

ATCHISON, TOPEKA & SANTA FE RAILWAY
Docket Number: 15315 Date: 5/20/1946 Section: 1
App. of Bay Point and Clayton Railroad Co. to abandon its entire line of railroad, 9 miles, extending from a connection with the line of railroad of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway company at Port Chicago to town of Cowell, all within Contra Costa County, California.
Length: 18 miles Citation:  
ATCHISON, TOPEKA & SANTA FE RAILWAY
Docket Number: 18617 Date: 8/2/1954 Section: 1 & 5
App. of Trustees of Sacramento Northern Railway (1) for authority to acquire trackage rights over the line of The Western Pacific Railroad Company between Sacramento, Sacramento Co., Cal., and Stockton, San Joaquin Co., Calif., of approx. 43.13 miles, and over the line of The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway Company between Stockton and Pittsburg, Contra Costa Co., Calif. of approx. 33.3 miles, and (2) for permission to abandon operation and remove the tracks and ferry of portions of its line of railroad extending from West Pfittsburg siding to Mallard, Contra Costa Co., Calif., thence by water by ferry boat across the Sacramento River to Chipps Calif., and thence by rail to Montezuma, Calif., all in Contra Costa and Solano Counties, Calif., a total distance of 4.437 miles consisting of approx. 3.915 miles of track and 0.522 of a mile of ferry operation.
Length: 4.437 miles Citation:  

Thanks for the info. Living in the Fairfield area for the last 10 years, I've noticed several spots in both Fairfield and Vacaville that might of been SN right of ways. There's a spot from North Texas thru Airbase Parkway that looks to me a railroad right of way. My inquires so far with old time residents have given me no answer. Also when I moved here the right of way on Elmira in Vacaville was still there, it's since been paved over. I have a book called When the Railroad leaves town with an article on the abandoning of rail's in Vacaville with pictures of a Bay area electric railroad assoc. charter in the mid 60's on Elmira. Someone out there should have photo history of SN trackage during and before that time. The Historical Society in Vacaville had no info. , but were happy to copy the article from my book. The Rio Vista railroad museum was'nt much help also.

thomas biagi
fairfield, CA
2/17/2009

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Excellent photos from all who contributed. It's great to see portions of lines rebuilt, even if only for light or recreational use. If I was rich it would be really fun to rebuild a line for my own use. :)

Kevin M. Smith
Cicero, NY
3/6/2010

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The terminus for sac/nor was at 40th st/broadway oakland,now a medical building and ran up shafter st thru the hills to

saranap etc one can still see most of the route.

al
orinda, CA
4/30/2010

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The SN right of war can be discerned by looking at the street configurations on a map and at satellite photos (Like Google Maps). The Linear Park is the old SN RW. On the west side or town the RR crossed US HWY 40 (I80) then turned SW parallel to the highway to Wilotta which was across Abernathy Rd. In the 1970's there were still rails in the Abernathy Road crossing. A Y at Travis Blvd connected with a branch to Suisun City. The Willotta to Suisun line was one of the earliest built. The track in Suisun was abandonded years before the SN was formed. East of Peobody Road a second Y connected the branch to Vacaville. On the other leg a third Y connected the branch to Travis AFB

D. Schmitt
Marysville, CA
6/7/2010

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One of the points of interest on the map is labeled "Abandoned tunnel under Berkeley Hills". It's actually the Oakland Hills.

Stephen K.
Oakland, CA
1/17/2011

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Hate to say it, but your routing through Oakland is not accurate. From your "Point of Interest" at 40th & Shafter, the routing went north on Shafter, east on Miles (now under Hwy 24), crossing north of Chabot Road, passing north of Lake Temescal but south of Hwy 13, to the trestle east of Moraga Avenue. Moraga Avenue is too steep for trains, and 40th St between Broadway and Piedmont Ave had local Key System streetcars running along it. Email me back, and I can send you my exhaustively-researched KML of the routing :)

Andy B.
Oakland, CA
5/4/2011

[Thanks Andy, I've corrected the map based on your notes.  —Greg Harrison]

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Thank you for providing this map. It gives a very good general overview of the route.

Unfortunately, I have to point out another inaccuracy. You have the route past Saint Mary's College incorrect. The route should go through the middle of what is now the sports fields. The ROW is actually shown on the map, along the edge of the Pat Vincent field, where the dark field meets the light field.

B
Lamorinda, CA
7/19/2011

[Thanks "B", I've corrected the map based on your notes as well.  —Greg Harrison]

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My father was the last president and general manager of the Sacramento Northern and Tidewater Southern. He retired after 47 years with the railroad in 1965.

I have memories of the right of way leases with cities expiring. X Street and Alhambra in Sacramento - the leases were 49 or 99 years.

tom kearney
Sacramento, CA
9/22/2011

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Remains of a overpass are still in place at Broadway Terrance

Jonathan
Cupertino, CA
3/18/2012

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The former Sankey Yard on the corner of Sankey and Pleasant Grove Road in Elverta is now operated by Modoc Railroad Academy. It is no longer connected to the former WP Mainline. The embankment along the former ROW still exists north of here, but I don't know for how far.

Bob Daniels
Boothbay Harbor, ME
3/31/2012

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One of the portals under Berkeley Hills is at the junction of Shepherd Canyon Rd. and Sarnari Dr.

Jonathan
Cupertino, CA
4/10/2012

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The other portal is at Pinehurst Road

Jonathan
Cupertino, CA
4/10/2012

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Does anyone know if tracks still run from Broadway Terrace south to Moraga, alongside Hwy 13? You can see the old telephone poles and what looks like a flat section of ground. I tried Google Earth but can only see the telephone lines.

Anne
Castro Valley, CA
4/21/2012

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Do you where I can obtain a rail map of the rails from Elmira to Rumsey? Thank you for your assistance

Ed Stephenson
Vacaville, CA
7/7/2012

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I enjoy your work. Thanks.

There is another map problem. In Walnut Creek the Sacramento Northern did not go so far east - it did not go through the Broadway Shopping Center. It turned North further East - following California Ave north to the current Walnut Creek Bart Station and then went where the Bart tracks are now.

Lon
Moraga, CA
9/24/2012

[Thanks Lon, I've corrected the map.  —Greg Harrison]

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@Anne ... No, the tracks were pulled up for scrap long ago. But you are indeed looking at the ROW embankment running along Highway 13.

John R.
Oakland, CA
11/22/2012

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And a couple of minor Oakland map tweaks: 1) The line from College Avenue to Broadway should be straight with a slight left curve just before it meets Broadway under the freeway; 2) The line coming up Shafter projects straight to College where it would meet Miles if Miles didn't have the slight dogleg. (This straight stretch of Miles used to be Shafter east of College.)

John R.
Oakland, CA
11/22/2012

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A survivor from the SN era is the depot at Meridian, west of Yuba City on State Highway 20. Now restored as a private residence, it was reportedly built from the same plans as the Pacific Electric Glendale station, which is long gone.

Bob Davis
San Gabriel, CA
1/10/2013

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When was this posted? cuz I kinda like this railroad. Is it brand new or just with the new symbol if you added more pictures?

locomotivemaster
Las Vegas, NV
7/15/2013

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I once heard that there's video's of bobby soxers and their friends getting on the train at Walnut Creek station in the 50's and 60's. Anybody know where I can find these?

Kit Hill
Oakland, CA
7/24/2013

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I have an old VHS of the Sacramento Northern, depicting part of it as transit from Oakland to the old State fairgrounds at Stockton Blvd. and Broadway. When I moved to Sacramento in 1971 I remember seeing remnants of trackage just off of Stockton Blvd near the fairgrounds that hadn't been paved over yet. But there is no trace of them any longer. I assume they've just been completely paved over since it would have been pretty costly to remove the rails.

Bill Tubbs
Clay, CA
1/23/2014

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On the system map, what do the dotted lines signify?

Andy
Seattle, WA
3/23/2014

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The dotted lines could be either connecting passenger service by bus or connecting freight service by truck. This map is from a book about the SN.

Mike Palmer
L A County, CA
3/30/2014

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Does anyone know if the Iron Horse Trail crossing Monument Blvd is the ROW of the SN (former Oakland Antioch)? There are two wide open areas between Monument Blvd and Treat that May have been passing tracks or even small yards. Even an old trestle at Monument Blvd.

Frank
Pleasant Hill, CA
8/13/2014

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Hi, Frank. No, the Iron Horse trail and the bridge next to Monument Blvd is not the ROW of the Sacramento Northern. The Iron Horse trail is the old Southern Pacific RR line that ran from Martinez along Market Street in Concord (where there was a classic SP station but now sits the BMW dealership) thru Walnut Creek, Danville and San Ramon and terminating in Pleasanton where it joined the SP running between Stockton and Oakland.

The wide space in the old SP ROW south of the bridge you see from Monument Blvd., was in fact, as I recall, a siding for the lumber company and grain and feed stores that were located off Hookston Rd.

The SP pulled up its tracks in -as I recall- the Fall of 1979.

The SN, on the other hand, ran to the east of the SP ROW from Port Chicago (Concord Naval Weapons Station) south through Concord and Walnut Creek generally taking the same route as the current BART tracks. Indeed, the SN took the first BART cars to the Concord BART yard in the 1960s. From Walnut Creek it swung west through Lafayette, Moraga and Canyon (megatropolis of the west) and then into the tunnel to Oakland.

The SN pulled up its remaining track from the Concord BART yard up to Port Chicago in the early 1980's.

Hope you find this helpful.

Jon
Concord, CA
8/26/2014

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Jon,

Many thanks for this excellent response. It is all very clear to me now. My grandparents (and father) made several trips to Concord from SF 100 years ago and would have ridden the Oakland & Antioch (SN). It is fun to think about the route they would have followed. Again thanks so much for your comments.

Frank
Pleasant Hill, CA
8/26/2014

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