Alta Mesa to Simla Junction

The Vasona Branch

Point of Interest

Map submitted by Paul Carr.

This was a secondary Southern Pacific route that passed through the Stanford University campus in Palo Alto, on the San Francisco peninsula. It was abandoned in 1962 to make way for the Foothill Expressway.

The Los Altos passenger depot, located about halfway along the line, still stands and has a Western Pacific caboose on display.

Thanks to Mike Palmer and Paul Carr for contributing information about this route.

Historic ICC Abandonment Filings

Docket Number: 22009 Date: 3/21/1962 Section: 1(18)
Applic. for auth. to aband. that port. of the Vasona Branch, Coast Divn., betw. M.P. 33.932 at or near Alta Mesa and M.P. 46.199 at or near Simla, a distance of approx. 6.267 mi., together with all sidings, spur tracks and appurtenances, located in Santa Clara County, Calif.
Length: 6.267 miles Citation:  

Our family moved to Los Altos in 1953. No interstate 280 nor Foothill Expressway. Single SP track bordered the south side of Fremont Rd with grade crossings at First St, El Monte, and Springer Rd/Magdelena Rd among others. Wig-wag signals predominated, no gates. I vivedly remember the SP commuter trains (one round trip each day between San Jose and San Francisco)with old olive-drab single level coaches pulled by final steam locos then GP-7s or GP-9s painted in black widow colors. Modern double deck coaches soon replaced the old. There was a short spur on the north side of the track which served the now long gone Los Altos Feed and Fuel store. (Mostly tank cars with bulk heating oil). The Los Altos train station (at First and Main) was a thing of beauty. Seemed out of place with so little actual train service. Still stands in the original location having been used by many different local businesses, the first of which was a hamburger restaurant appropriately called The Station House. Many times a week an SP crew would park their loco across from the Rancho Shopping Center and have lunch at then-called Rancho Chuck Wagon restaurant. The restaurant is still in its original location but now renamed. The branch line deteriorated significantly in its final years but the memories live on. The Los Altos Museum has a nice section dedicated to its historical railroad days.

Dennis Shattock
Schaumburg, IL


A couple of comments. The Los Altos branch was abandoned in January 1964 to be exact. It didn't pass through the Stanford Campus either, by several miles.

One correction to the other comment. They were not GP-7s. SP ran GP-9s on the commute trains, as he also mentions. There were never GP-7s on the commute trains. SP only every had one GP7 in the system and it was part of the Cotton Belt Railway.

Redmond, WA


Growing up in Los Altos, I remember that line. A morning and evening commuter train used the line. My Dad sometimes took it to The City. There were a few industrial spurs on the line as well. Mclroy Lumber on San Antonio Road in Los Altos received carloads of lumber and other building materials. I remember a team track in Loyola Corners, as well. I recall the Commuter trains, but don't ever remember a freight, though I was 4 when Foothill Expressway was built.

You can still see the rail bridge over Steven's Creek (now used for a pipeline) of the original wye, and the right of way just to the west of Foothill Expressway right before the I-280 overcrossing. Used to be a crossbuck sign near there too.

Paul L. Noble
Los Altos, CA


I would love any links to detailed track right of ways that were used. Scanned photos too.

A friend told me that Good Year was responsible for convincing Mayors of Los Gatos and Los Angeles to pull up their tracks and light rail systems. How sad.

lewis isbell
Los Gatos/Los Altos, CA


1962 is the date of the filing. The actual abandonment took place on January 27, 1964.

S.P. primarily used Fairbanks-Morse Train Master locomotives for the peninsula commute service.

On Google Maps it is possible to discern some of the old right of way in Palo Alto where it broke off from the main line, crossed Park Boulevard going behind the building that now houses Fry's Electronics, across El Camino and down the dirt path on the west side of McDonald's. As of 1991 there were still vestiges of the crossing hardware at Park Boulevard. The City of Palo Alto has since leveled that section of El Camino which used to be slightly above grade.

Palo Alto, CA


Copy and paste the entire link above and you should get a link to a 1947 map of Palo Alto and vicinity from the University of Alabama's map collection.

Gary Hunter
San Jose, CA


Born in Palo Alto @ the old Stanford hospital, lived close to San Antonio shopping center, close to the Sears warehouse at the end of Del Medio road where Sears had a spur track and we would play in the empty box cars after hours. In kindergarten @ Portola elementry school took a field trip on one of the double decker commute cars, still a vivid memory. I am building a HO train set to mimick the alma run of track. does anyone remember any other industries that had spurs along that route? I can remember also playing around one near the old Maximart store, (now Fry's), but not too much else.

Alan Griffin
Carson City, NV



follow this link for a map of track and industries on the peninsula.


Paul L Noble
Edgewood NM(native Los Altan), NM


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Do you have any pictures or information about The Vasona Branch? Please . You will get credit for anything you contribute.