Niles to Tracy

The Tracy Line

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Map submitted by Paul Carr.

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Restored Niles depot and WP caboose on display. Track at left is actually former SP; the ex-WP crosses the ex-SP on a diamond just south of here. Photo by Mike Palmer, August 2010.

This abandoned railway line was originally the San Francisco bay area's connection to the Transcontinental Railroad constructed in the 1860s. The decline in San Francisco's status as a port with the advent of containerization, combined with the movement of produce traffic to the highways left this line with little business. Southern Pacific abandoned the line in 1984, and deeded the land to Alameda County. SP opted to use trackage rights on the newer and less steep Union Pacific (ex-WP) line, which ran parallel to SP's route.

The Pacific Locomotive Association leased the right-of-way from the county and began working to reconstruct the track in 1987. The Niles Canyon Railway ran its first passenger train in 1988. Passenger trains once again connected Sunol and Niles starting in 2006. The organization continues its work to extend and maintain the track along the line, restore its collection of railroad equipment, and operate historic demonstration trains for the benefit of the public. They plan to eventually extend their demonstration train service to Pleasanton, California.

Between Pleasonton and Livermore to the east, the line is slowly being built over. UP re-aligned their track to a section of the SP right-of-way east of Livermore, and there is also a section of SP right-of-way still used by UP to serve industrial customers. At Altamont Pass, the ROW serves as a service road for utility companies.

On the eastern end of the line, the San Joaquin Valley Railroad Museum is planning to rehabilitate the line from downtown Tracy out to the end of the rails above Tracy, a distance of about five miles, and offer weekend excursion trips.

Thanks to Paul Carr for contributing information about this route.

Historic ICC Abandonment Filings

SOUTHERN PACIFIC RAILROAD
Docket Number: 30023 Date: 8/18/1982 Section: 10505
Notice of exemption pursuant to 49 U.S.C. 10505; 49 C.F.R. 111.4(g), abandonment of trackage between Niles Tower, Alameda County, California, and Lathrop, San Joaquin County, California.
Length: Unknown Citation:  

i remember sp scrapers ripping out this line back in 1985. it was a sad site indeed. no more tracks through the altamont pass, niles canyon ( the pacific locomotive ass has relaid this line from sunol to niles )pleasanton and livermore.around the same time the niles tower ( ex wp ,now up )tower went up in flames.......it was truly the end

michael hand
bethel island, CA
10/3/2011

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I had seen this "living museum" from time to time over the years while passing through the area on vacation, but never had a chance to ride the trains until last weekend. As mentioned in Paul's narrative, the Niles Canyon Railway (NCRY) is operated on a rebuilt segment of a historic line the SP abandoned in 1984. The SP had removed all track hardware and crossing signals; only the bridges remained. Volunteers have rebuilt several miles of track, and have plans to build extensions. They have acquired old SP signals from other segments across the system as UP replaces them when with new modern signals.

I first rode the first morning "Skunk" train - this is a transplanted railcar that used to run on the California Western between Willits and Fort Bragg. The railcar now runs from Sunol a couple miles north/east to a switch called Hearst. Hearst is where they built a connecting track to the parallel UP (former Western Pacific) route. This connection enables the museum to acquire new rail equipment entirely by rail, instead of by flatbed truck. This new connection was built in 2004, according to Arcadia Publishing's "Niles Canyon Railways".

Once the Skunk train returned to the depot at Sunol, I transferred to the train that runs down the canyon to Niles. This train is a hodgepodge of passenger cars, a caboose, and open air cars. It may not look "authentic" but it was a lot of fun. As it turns out, one of the people who sat across from me was Henry Luna; he was the author of the "Niles Canyon Railway" book and a founding member of the museum, and shared some stories about how things went over the years. He was accompanied by a couple of friends, one of whom was a retired Conrail/Amtrak engineer who is a railfan.

It was great weather over the weekend; I photographed the line in Saturday and rode the trains Sunday. California Rte 84 parallels the route through the canyon, but the road is narrow and there are no legal places to park in the more scenic areas. The still active UP (ex-Western Pacific) runs up the other side of the canyon; unfortunately I saw no freights on that line all weekend.

Mike Palmer
Torrance, CA
11/10/2011

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It seems that some buildings have been built over the right of way in both a couple in places in Pleasanton and Livermore. NCRR is unable to get the right of way in Pleasanton, (i believe this has to do with not having enough money, and that a storage facility has been built over the right of way) so they will only be able to go as far as 1 mile from downtown. That is sad. This is a piece of history, ad it would be very interesting to see a tourist train run along the original trans con route into tracy.

joe
belomnt, CA
7/9/2013

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The line heading over the Altamont to the Bay Area, now stripped of its rails, was once a key portion of the original transcontinental railroad. The tracks that are still intact, which once saw giant cab-forwards hauling long freight trains on their way to and from the Bay Area, are now simply called the Owens-Illinois Industrial Lead, and sees maybe one or two short, slow-moving local jobs every few months.

David Jackson
Tracy, CA
11/24/2013

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I fired many an AC over Altamont during the early 50s and remember this line with fondness. I have some 8mm movie footage taken from a caboose cupola window (while deadheading from Livermore)just behind an AC helper going up the west side. In the late 40s there were several excursions over this line using Berkshires, Moguls, Consolidations and other exotic power.

Barry Anderson
Port Townsend, WA
4/27/2014

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