Western Trips

Western Trips

Friday, February 15, 2013

Rail Pictures / Niles Canyon Railway


One of the most fun things to do is ride an historic train route. The Niles Canyon Railway that operates in the San Francisco Bay Area between Fremont California and the picturesque small town of Sunol is just such a ride.

sunol california railroad station
Niles Canyon Railway Station, Sunol CA
When you're visiting the San Francisco Bay Area this is a side trip you'll be glad you added to your trip planner. In addition to a scenic ride you'll be able to take some great rail pictures.

The Niles Canyon Railroad operates year round. The area of Niles Canyon in in the Eastbay area running from Fremont California westward to the valley.

The Era of the Railroads

The  Niles Canyon Railroad history goes all the way back to the year 1862, seven years before the completion of the first transcontinental railroad. The railroad's history includes both the building of the Central Pacific Railroad and the Western Pacific Railroad.

As it's name implies, the Niles Canyon Railway runs through scenic  Niles Canyon. Steam locomotives began traversing the canyon as early as 1865 via the Western Pacific Railroad. The Western Pacific started to build from San Jose north and eastward. As was the case with most railroads, mergers, acquisitions and new routes would emerge through much of the latter 1800's.

Eventually, the Western Pacific Railroad was bought out by the Central Pacific and the Central Pacific was taken over by the Southern Pacific.The Southern Pacific focus was more to the north around Martinez California and as a result the Niles Canyon railroad line became secondary. Having been a part of the legendary Central Pacific Railroad, today's Niles Canyon Railway line runs over what was once part of the transcontinental railroad.

niles canyon railroad
Old Southern Pacific Rail Car on Niles Canyon Railway
Another interesting fact is that the Niles Canyon route was the very first line for trains running eastward from the San Francisco Bay. It wouldn't occur until 1879 that the much shorter route from the Bay Area to Sacramento would be completed which ran through Benicia to the north.

Pacific Locomotive Association

Pacific Locomotive Association’s Niles Canyon Railway is operated  by this volunteer group for the purpose of preserving the atmosphere of Pacific Coast railroads.

 The Pacific Locomotive Association began in 1961 and operates several historic excursion trains in California. Another popular excursion railroad operated by the group is referred to as the "Skunk Train". This train runs between Mendocino California on the coast and the town of Willits. The formal name of the railroad is the California Western Railroad.

The Pacific Locomotive association made arrangements to begin a rebuilding of the Niles Canyon line in 1987. In 1988 the line was completed and excursion train service began between Sunol California and Fremont.


niles canyon railway
Niles Canyon excursion train
Historic Preservation

The Pacific Locomotive Association has an excellent collection of railroad equipment that has been accumulated since the 1960's. The locomotives and rolling stock collected went through restoration programs and train restoration continues as an ongoing project. The collection is found at the association's Niles Station located in Fremont.

This is the location you want to visit to see some spectacular restored rolling stock. The steam engines at Fremont's Niles Station includes a great exhibit of old Southern Pacific steam locomotives.

Just to give you an idea of some of the other rail cars collected by the Pacific Locomotive Association, they include, but are certainly not limited to, a 1904 80 foot Pullman Business Car, a 40 foot 1911 Pullman RPO (Railroad Post Office) Car, a 1907 69 foot Observation Car, q 1923 Pullman Interurban passenger car, a 1926 Pullman Heavyweight Sleeper, a 1923 60 foot Pullman Business Car and a 1926 Pullman Heavyweight Dining Car.


at & sf caboose
Vintage AT & SF caboose on Niles Canyon RR
Just to mention a few of the vintage locomotives in the Pacific Locomotive Association collection include a Western Pacific F7 Diesel, a Southern Pacific SD9 Diesel, a Southern Pacific 9011 Diesel, the Robert Dollar Lumber Company No. 3 steam locomotive, the Qunicy Railroad Company No. 2  steam locomotive and the Clover Valley Lumber Company No. steam locomotive.

Riding the Niles Canyon Railway

We have enjoyed riding the Niles Canyon Railway several times. As mentioned above, the railroad operates throughout the year and is a fun experience whether you go alone, with a small group or as part of celebrations such as birthdays. Another offering is a Sunday caboose excursion where parties can reserve the caboose for special occasions.


southern pacific locomotive
Southern Pacific 1423 at Sunol CA
Weekend excursions on the Niles Canyon Railroad operate January through October. During November and December you'll want to check out the Train of Lights evening trains. Groups can also charter a complete train. All information on schedules, special trains and fares can be found at the railroad's website www.ncry.org. The railway is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The scenery is beautiful, the rail line is historic and you'll be able to take some terrific rail pictures. Riding the Niles Canyon Railway is a great addition to a San Francisco area vacation or weekend trip. Make sure to check out their web site for special events.

Links to additional Western Trips photo articles you'll enjoy include Texas Train Rides on the Heartland Flyer....the historic  AT & SF 5000 Steam Locomotive and Amtrak's very popular Coast Starlight with it's historic Palace Car service..

(Photos from author's private collection)
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