Abandoned Rails of San Jose

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Map submitted by Paul Carr.

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The Lick Branch: Southern Pacific employee map showing the Lick Branch Line. (Submitted by Paul Carr)

The Lick Branch: The Lick Branch left the Southern Pacific (now Union Pacific) Coast Line a few miles south of San Jose, at a location called Lick. The branch proceeded for a few miles, generally southwest, to its original end at the QuickSilver mines at New Almaden. Along the route, the line served orchards, gravel pits, Hubbard and Johnson Lumber and the Almaden Winery.

The line was shortened due to an abandonment of the section south of Alamitos in 1937. The remainder was formally abandoned in January of 1981, but the last train most likely ran in 1979.

Most of the right-of-way cannot be traced easily, as there are now housing subdivisions along much of its route. Not far from the main line junction, the right of way is used for a self storage facility. Further south, the last couple miles of the branch ROW are now used for the VTA light rail system, built in the early 1990s. The single track light rail line includes the Oakridge and Almaden stations on the former SP segment.

The San Jose Branch: The Western Pacific reached Oakland in the early 1900s after the other rail lines in the area were already established. A branch from Niles to San Jose was completed in 1921, and is the southernmost part of the WP. A map of the branch shows it was shaped like a "J", with the hook curving around the south and west sides of San Jose. (See also Niles to Milpitas.)

It crossed the SP main and a few SP branches along its route. The WP was absorbed by the UP in 1982, but it wasn't until the SP was also merged into the UP (1996) that the last few miles of the branch were abandoned. Several connecting industrial spurs have also been pulled up recently.

As of fall 2003 the tracks are "out of service" between William Street Yard (east side of San Jose) through Valbrick (former SP spur crossing) to the former SP coast line crossing (CP Michael). Beyond that location, through West San Jose (SP Permanente branch crossing) to the end of the branch, most of the rails and ties were removed in 2003. Some rails remain at grade crossings, but the signals are removed or have "Tracks Removed From Service" signs on them. In a couple of places near West San Jose, buildings are under construction on the former right-of-way. Meanwhile, a small section near the end of the branch, used for a customer, has been connected to the UP/SP Permanente Branch. (As of late 2003 the Permanante branch was being double tracked for use as a future light rail line, while still maintaining freight service).

The 4th Street Line: This line was once part of the Southern Pacific's main line through San Jose, CA, the Coast Line. While the mainline was relocated to where it is today, this line remained as a branch of the mainline; it was called the 4th Street Line, since part of it ran in the pavement of its namesake street.

Today, most of the line is abandoned, except for a small central portion of it, used to connect to the Luther Industrial Spur, still in use by Union Pacific.

See also the The Colma Branch.

The 7th Street Spurs: This maze of spurs along 7th street in San Jose, CA, was used by the Western Pacific and Southern Pacific, and branch off of the San Jose Branch and the 4th Street Line, respectively.

The spurs fell into disuse over the past two decades and Union Pacific pulled up what was left of the tracks in early 2008.

Thanks to Paul Carr for contributing information about this route.

Historic ICC Abandonment Filings

SOUTHERN PACIFIC RAILROAD
Docket Number: AB-12 Sub 30 Date: 5/24/1976 Section: 1a
Application filed for authority to abandon railroad from MP 55.24 at Lick in a southwesterly direction to the end of the branch at MP 58.97 near Alamitos, a distance of 3.73 miles in Santa Clara County, Calif.
Length: 3.73 miles Citation:  

Great article. I remember as a child growing up in that area in the 1970s the tracks of the Lick Branch. While riding in the car with my parents to run errands, go to the store, etc, we'd cross the tracks at various locations. Always hoped to see a train pass by but never did.

At the Blossom Hill Rd grade crossing, there were overhead flashing lights with crossing gates on each side of the road. There were also lights and gates in the median of Blossom Hill. The signals were set up just like VTA has it set up for the light rail. On the north side of Blossom Hill, west side of the track, was a huge quarry with large cranes that held scoops to pick up rock. At the Pearl Ave crossing, there were just railroad crossing cross bucks, no lights, bells, or gates. Next to that crossing was a cement loading ramp that served that spur shown on the map next to the Pearl Ave crossing. That loading dock had a tin roof covering. I always thought that's where the area farmers must've brought their goods to meet up with the freight trains. The right-of-way wandered through tall golden grass between Pearl Ave and Capital Expressway. The crossing at Capital Expressway was just like that at Blossom Hill Rd with lights and gates on either side of the street and in the median. At this crossing, you could look north up the track and see the track make a 90 degree curve to the right (east).

Then in the late 70s, the signals and gates at Blossom Hill Rd came down and they covered the rails with asphalt. There was a mound of dirt they put at the new end of the line north of Blossom Hill Rd. The tracks then became overgrown with weeds. I remember in the mid 1980s seeing a reporter from San Jose's Channel 11 News standing at the old track on Blossom Hill Rd stating how VTA bought the right-of-way to turn into it's light rail route.

Years ago, that must've been a very scenic route traveling through the open farms and orchards with the golden Santa Teresa Foothills in the distance. Too bad I didn't think to take photos along that route when the track still existed.

Steve Rinker
San Jose
5/3/2009

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I was very sad to see these tracks get pulled up in 2004. It passed by the San Jose Municipal Stadium, home of the San Jose Giants, a Minor League baseball team. I never actually saw a train on these tracks, but it must have been a site no train-lover wanted to miss.

Andy Sammonds
San Jose, CA
1/1/2010

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I was at a San Jose Giants game in the mid-1990s and saw a UP switcher run with a single car around the stadium and it ran back light a short time later. That was the only time I ever saw anything.

Paul Carr
San Jose, CA
10/21/2010

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I was born well after this line had been abandoned, but do remember crossing along Branham Lane and seeing the footings for what was once the railroad bridge. For some reason, they always fascinated me even though it wasn't till much later that I learned that there used to be a line running through the area. From what I was told by one of my teachers who lived in the area when the line was abandoned, several of the homeowners were given the right to purchase the land. If you look at the houses that sit along the old path, they do have larger backyards than any of the other houses in the area.

Anthony Madrid
Pflugerville, TX
2/12/2011

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I actually got to see a small run on the tracks around Municipal Stadium. I think it might have just been a turning of the train, but it was still an interesting sight to watch during the game. I believe this might have been around summer 2002 so it may have also been to clear the tracks for their removal.

Anthony Madrid
Pflugerville, TX
2/12/2011

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Also, portions of the track are still visible at the intersection of Sunol and San Carlos, though the portions north had long since been abandon and covered (by 2003 there was nothing to indicate there was ever anything there). The tracks running parallel to Lincoln was kept in good shape (though I never saw a train on it) and were just as quickly removed. I was commuting on the the bus at the time, and they would always have to stop at the crossing on Coe just before Lincoln. It seemed like they only needed a month to remove all of the track through Willow Glen.

Anthony Madrid
Pflugerville, TX
2/12/2011

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I was born and raised in Willow Glen. My parents house was just a few blocks from the tracks that crossed Minnesota Ave, guarded by a Wig-Wag. As a kid in the 60s, I used to see virtually daily activity along this line with WP switchers doing their deliveries and picking up empties, part of which was from Simon's Nursery located on Bird Ave.

I've watched WP activity behind the San Jose Giants stadium as well(then the team was called the San Jose Bees), when I used to go to their games.

The crossing across Minnesota Ave was not without its hazards. Sometime during the mid 60s, a tractor-trailer rig pulling a set of doubles laden with tomatoes on its way to the San Jose Cannery, which backed up against the SP Coast Line tracks, collided with a WP train. Either the driver didn't see the wig-wag operating or was trying to beat the train. Regardless, tomatoes were scattered everywhere, with the truck and load lying on its side. Saw that aftermath on my way home from elementary school. Never forgot that!

But a lot of memories I carry of the WP. Sounds of the horn during the day and sometimes at night as well, along with the burbling sounds their switchers made, which could be heard a fair distance, the clicking of the wheels over jointed track, the warning striping taped or painted on the front of the locomotives, and on and on.

As an aside, during the late 90s, my company had a warehouse near Monterey Rd, where the very WP track crossed it. The tracks ran behind it but was pretty much dormant by then. UP, of course, had bought the WP and one day, we had the back warehouse door open and my co-worker and I observed a UP MOW crew running a track grinding machine up and down the right-of-way, followed by another vehicle, which I presumed, was checking the track gauge. It was only a couple of years later, that the UP pulled up the tracks, a line that was never to see another train again. To me, that was the UPs loss as well as San Jose. On occasion, I drive by my old neighborhood and can see the remnants of the old ROW scattered not only across Willow Glen, but in other parts of the city. Just something weird and an empty feeling to see no more tracks in what I thought was a part of daily life, growing up in what once was a great area to live in.

Jose J Pagan
San Jose, CA
8/29/2011

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I noticed that the old up/wp tracks have been cut all the way through the great mall area and the signals have been turned to the side. Just saw this while in san jose this week. Seems the tracks will be cut back now to the yard just north of the great mall in milpitas.

Leonard cravens
Indio, CA
7/6/2012

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There seems to be a little confusion on this. The subject is the Lick branch of the SP, not the San Jose Branch of the WP/UP. The line that ran past the Municipal Stadium was the WP San Jose. I too, saw this line (Lick-Alamitos)may times but was never lucky enough to see any operations.

Gary Hunter
San Jose, CA
12/19/2012

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Sorry, a careful re-read of the subject is San Jose, not just the Alamitos (Lick) branch. Since the onetime WP San Jose is included here, let me offer the latest update as of today. The entire branch is now history. Almost every rail has been removed from Milpitas to Berryessa Rd. beginning just south of the Capitol ave. crossing by the Great Mall, and continuing to Berryessa Rd. I believe Berryessa will be the terminus of the first phase of BART to San Jose. The tracks are "intact" south of Berryessa, to just short of William St.(site of)Yd., but not connected to anything in the outside world.

Gary Hunter
San Jose, CA
12/19/2012

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Go see WPRR Willow Glen Spur trestle. Click on Facebook Friends of WG Trestle to see video and photos. Group is trying to save.

Jean Dresden
San Jose, CA
5/3/2013

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I drove around the Southern Part of the East Bay checking out some of the industrial spurs, and it seems that the line is being cut all the way back to the small industrial siding near the Great Mall. It looks like UPRR is doing track work all the way back to NUMMI to accommodate Bart, and that Bart will be using the former right of way of the San Jose Branch to serve the Diridon Station in the future. Does anyone know if the industrial siding near the Great Mall is still in use. Two sidings cross Yosemite Drive, while a third one has been removed. I have a friend who lives in the area and it would be great to catch a UPRR local picking up a few tanker cars. I welcome any corrections or other information about the area.

Joseph
Belmont, CA
5/14/2013

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edit: It seems Bart is doing construction next to the UPRR line from Warm Springs to San Jose going past the Milpitas Rail Yard.

Joseph
Belmont
5/14/2013

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There is an abandoned crossing signal on 23rd street according to Google Maps. There are more on 24th street. You can find others at Antonio Street, Whitton Avenue, Fernando Street, Shortridge Avenue, Santa Clara Street, Saint James Street, and Julian Street.

freebrickproductions
Huntsville, AL
2/28/2014

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will they be removing the remaining trackage and signals, or are they just going to stay in place until future construction removes them?

joseph
belmont
3/1/2014

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I am not sure why the remaining 1.5 or so mi of track south of Berryessa/Mabury remains. The track seems to start right about the Hwy 101 overpass and continues as described. My hope was that the spur that services the rock plant off the Milpitas sub might be extended the quarter mile or so to the customers that received loads as late as 2007 (?). The BART construction taking place is fairly large scale, and there may be no way to get around, over or under BART even if there were enough customers. It appears that the Berryessa terminal will enter from the north on an aerial alignment. The apparent parking area appears huge. Fortunately, there is an access fly-over being constructed at the south end of Milpitas to give UP access to the considerable industrial trackage on the north side of the yard. It is interesting how they are building the fly-over bridge from the grade down, allowing current and continuing use by UP. BART will be on a depressed alignment at Capitol Ave.

Gary Hunter
San Jose, CA
3/1/2014

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A neighbor along the abandoned Lick Branch allowed me to go into her back yard which the Lick Branch ran through. I found spikes and an old railroad tie. She remembered the tracks being torn out in the middle 70's. She bought 3 parcels, her neighbors didn't want the land adjacent. Will send the pictures .

Leonard Cravens
Indio, CA
1/26/2015

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is the luther industrial spur still in use? It looks pretty empty when I looked it up on google earth?

joe
belmont
1/27/2015

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I grew up in San Jose in the 1960's. Graduated from Pioneer HS. My friend Paul and I were active model railroaders so spent many days off on our bikes riding over to "TT-130" (What is apparently now titled "Lick branch") The crews always referred to it as TT (Team track) 130. The track branched off the main at Banner Furniture and headed through a (mostly) desert area to some orchard groves and a small spur with a fruit loading shed. After that it proceeded over to Branham where there was a cement plant of some sort and, at the end, a lumber yard. We had been told that at one time the line had further extended out to a connection with the new Almaden line.

As I said spent MANY days just hanging abound TT-130 - Even walked the whole line numerous times. Saw switching jobs oftentimes too - The SP usually used FM locs - tall and odd looking with a unique sound.

Lon Wall
Newberg, Oregon, OR
4/11/2016

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