The San Francisco Belt Railroad

The State Belt Railroad begain in 1889 for the sole purpose of handling freight traffic along San Francisco's waterfront. Its name is derived from the fact that waterfront property at the time was owned by the State of California, and not the City of San Francisco. (When California was originally surveryed, the land along the waterfront was underwater, and thus was not included in San Francisco city limits.)

The State Belt Railroad saw traffic from both the North Pacific Coast Railroad and the South Pacific Coast Railroad; as both railroads had different gauges, a majority of the State Belt Railroad's tracks were dual-gauged to accommodate. In addition, interchange with both railroads was done by ferry as the State Belt Railroad had no physical connection with the nation's rail network; this changed in 1913, when SBRR's tracks finally joined with Southern Pacific trackage at a small interchange yard. At the height of the State Belt Railroad, 67 miles of track were in its service.

Freight service began to dwindle as shipping routes started terminating in Oakland, across the San Francisco Bay. In 1969, the State sold the water front property to San Francisco, and the State Belt Railroad was promptly renamed the San Francisco Belt Railroad. 1993 saw the railroad company come to an end, with a majority of tracks already abandoned by this time.

Parts of the former main belt line have been rebuilt as the Muni (light rail) Embarcadero line. Some of the freight piers have been refurbished as restaurants; some others are used as parking/storage facilities.

This is the west portal of the Fort Mason tunnel. Trains would u...
This is the west portal of the Fort Mason tunnel. Trains would use this tunnel to access the northern terminus of the SFBRR in the Presidio. Photo by Andrew Laverdiere, June 2008.
This shows the east portal of the Fort Mason tunnel.
This shows the east portal of the Fort Mason tunnel. Photo by Andrew Laverdiere, June 2008.
This picture was taken from the east side of the tunnel looking ...
This picture was taken from the east side of the tunnel looking towards Aquatic Park and Fishermans Wharf. Photo by Andrew Laverdiere, June 2008.
This is the rail pier where the rail barges would come in from O...
This is the rail pier where the rail barges would come in from Oakland, Richmond and Marin County. Photo by Andrew Laverdiere, June 2008.
This is the abandoned railroad pier, Pier 52, built by the AT&SF...
This is the abandoned railroad pier, Pier 52, built by the AT&SF, just south of China Basin. Photo by Andrew Laverdiere, July 2008.
This is the abandoned railroad pier, Pier 52, built by the AT&SF...
This is the abandoned railroad pier, Pier 52, built by the AT&SF, just south of China Basin. Photo by Andrew Laverdiere, July 2008.
Five blocks south of Pier 52 in the previous photos is this stre...
Five blocks south of Pier 52 in the previous photos is this street-running track on Illinois Street. Locals reported that the area west of the pier had a large rail yard; the yard is now gone and the area gentrified. The line starts at Mariposa Street at this location, and goes all the way to India Basin at Cesear Chavez Street (formerly Army Street). Photo by Andrew Laverdiere, July 2008.
This is a picture of the tight right-of-way between Pier 24 and ...
This is a picture of the tight right-of-way between Pier 24 and 26 underneath the Bay Bridge. Photo by Andrew Laverdiere, July 2008.
This entire section has been rebuilt into restaurants, but the l...
This entire section has been rebuilt into restaurants, but the large clearance for freight cars remains. Photo by Mike Palmer, April 2010.
Pier 10, facing east.
Pier 10, facing east. Photo by Mike Palmer, April 2010.
Pier 17, facing east.
Pier 17, facing east. Photo by Mike Palmer, April 2010.
At pier 43, metal bands simulate embedded rails.
At pier 43, metal bands simulate embedded rails. Photo by Mike Palmer, April 2010.

—  Links to Other Websites  —

—  User Comments  —

A pic of the Fisherman's Wharf line in service is in Trains magazine's March 2005 issue, pages 62-63. It shows ATSF boxcars and an ATSF tugboat in the background, dated 1971.

Mike Palmer
Torrance, CA
6/6/2010

I was in this exact area a couple times over the last decade and a half visiting my uncle who lives nearby and even stood outside the tunnel, but didn't have my camera with me at the time and didn't even think to grab it and take photos. Fail. Thanks Andrew and Mike.

Kevin M. Smith
Cicero, NY
7/27/2011

The track on Illinois Street is actually owned by the ATSF.

Jonathan
Cupertino, CA
4/14/2012

I saw an engine at Third and Cargo way that read San Francisco Belt way chugging along. All black with white writing it. It was king of cool to see it.

Claudio Pubill
San Francisco, CA
6/21/2012

I'm just joking of course...But what are the posts in pic 9 for? Wayward trains? Nice homework. Good job.

Paul Gronemeir
Albuquerque, NM
11/28/2013

I worked for the port 1977-1978. was a electrican I worked with Rusty and Brewhous hipotting the Alco's and other problems. Rode with the crew many times

Phil
Brisbane,CA, CA
4/18/2014

Fort Mason Tunnel is slated for reopening as part of MUNI's E Embarcadero heritage streetcar line.

Andy Sammonds
San Jose, CA
12/30/2015

The above link to the Golden Gate Railroad Museum no longer works because they have eliminated the "history" category. A good history may be found at http://sfbayrail.com/page4/page4.html

Bob Lemmon
Whitestown, IN
7/18/2016