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  • California Pacific Offers an Infinite Variety

    Text and Photography by Eric Blasko and Brian Jennison

    ABOVE: One of the San Joaquins, No. 703, is shown here at the now-defunct 18th Street Station in Oakland, California. TOP RIGHT: An a.c.-powered LBUTC cruises along San Pablo Bay at Pinole on January 4, 1998. ABOVE: Westbound hotshot ZG10A passes the old Nevada Dock location just west of Ozol Yard in Martinez on May 18, 1997.
    RailNews - December 1997 - Page 34 RailNews - December 1997 - Page 35

    The Cal-P line from Oakland to Sacramento isn't the first rail line into the San Francisco Bay Area, but it was Southern Pacific's (and is now Union Pacific's) busiest and most scenic. The line also has a rich history. Although Central Pacific transcontinental passenger trains reached Oakland in September 1869, the route from Sacramento was circuitous, via Stockton, Altamont Pass, and Niles Canyon. Most passengers from the East opted to leave the Central Pacific in Sacramento, where they could board a steamer for a relaxing overnight trip down the Sacramento River, or ride the rival California Pacific Railroad 60 miles to Vallejo and embark on a short but scenic boat trip to San Francisco.

    Finding this situation intolerable, Central Pacific acquired California Pacific in 1876. Ferry terminals were established at Benicia and Port Costa, and a 30-mile rail line was constructed to Oakland along the eastern shores of San Pablo and San Francisco bays. Central Pacific trains could now reach the Golden Gate much more directly.

    In 1930, the Suisun Bay Bridge was completed across the Carquinez Strait, where the combined Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers flow toward San Pablo Bay, and the quaint rail ferries between Benicia and Port Costa became obsolete. Though long since part of the SP empire, the water-level route down from Sacramento is still known to railroaders as the Cal-P.

    From West Oakland, the Cal-P doubletrack mainline runs east (geographic north) through industrial Emeryville, Berkeley, and Richmond before reaching San Pablo Bay. Then, with mile after mile of shoreside running, the railroad is in many places a reminder of an earlier bucolic era in California, before automobiles and freeways made life here so hectic. Even amid the urban sprawl, it is possible to take a variety of scenic shots along this stretch, as the line winds its way past the refineries and chemical manufacturing complexes of Contra Costa County.

    Once through Martinez and across the massive Suisun Bay Bridge, the Cal-P provides 79 mph running across marshes and farmlands on the way to Sacramento. Built primarily as a passenger railroad, Cal-P had dwindled to two tri-weekly trains (the Coast Starlight and the San Francisco Zephyr) by 1972. However, under Amtrak and Caltrans, the railroad has once again become an important passenger route, with the Coast Starlight; the California Zephyr; the Capitols; and, from Martinez to Oakland, the San Joaquins plying the line.

    The State of California's commitment to high-quality passenger service is evidenced by the start, in April 1996, of a $65 million upgrading project, funded by state bond money. The plan includes replacing jointed rail with continuous welded rail and installing crossovers and doubletrack CTC. The new CTC allows trains to proceed in either direction on both tracks. When completed, CTC will be in place from the J Street Bridge in Sacramento all the way to Oakland. During construction, DTC (Direct Traffic Control) was utilized, with the dispatcher dictating block authority to trains over the radio. As of August 1997, CTC has been installed from Sacramento to the crossovers at CPA 18 near Richmond, except for a 4-1/2 mile stretch near Martinez. This section, from CPA30 near Port Costa to CP Ferry, the junction with the Mococo line, includes Ozol Yard and the Martinez Amtrak station. On this section, Track 1 (the north track) is regulated by yard limit rules, and Track 2 is still the Brickyard block, dispatched using DTC. Installation of CTC in this last bit of track awaits construction of a new Amtrak station at Martinez, one block west of the historic former SP depot currently in use. Grading of the site commenced in early August.

    Cal-P's status as a passenger line is secure, with 20 Amtrak trains running over it every day. Add at least six through freights each way per day plus locals, and Cal-P is a busy railroad.

    On November 7, 1978, a newly equipped San Joaquin No. 710 leaves 16th Street as No. 11, the Coast Starlight, holds short of the depot.
    RailNews - December 1997 - Page 36

    ABOVE: A streak of light is all that remains after four SP Morrison-Knudsen TE70-4s raced through Berkeley. LEFT: The late aHernoon sun of October 29, 1980, glints off of these experimental units, aptly dubbed Popsicles.
    RailNews - December 1997 - Page 37

    The West End: Oakland to Berkeley

    Under CP, the Cal-P ended at the Oakland Pier, also known as the Oakland Mole. (Mole is another word for pier or breakwater.) Here passengers transferred to ferries for the three-mile trip to San Francisco. The Mole, with its giant trainshed, was abandoned in 1961, and the suburban commuter station at 16th Street became the last stop on the transcontinental run. At 16th Street, passengers for "the City" then boarded buses for the ride over the Bay Bridge to the TransBay Terminal.

    Completed in August 1912, 16th Street Station served for 77 years before it was damaged in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. The vast waiting room has stood derelict ever since; passengers had to wait out side in a temporary prefab waiting room, and the station was officially closed in fall 1994. Oakland passengers now board at the modern Alice Street Station near Jack London Square. The new Oakland Station opened in May 1995. Another new station at Emeryville, 1.8 miles east of 16th Street, opened in August 1993. These stations are hotspots for Amtrak fans, with four San Joaquins, four Capitols, one Coast Starlight, and one California Zephyr each way daily. The Starlight has received one brand-new P42 from General Electric; eight more should arrive by the end of 1997.

    Freight trains departing via the Cal-P leave from two of Oakland's three former SP yards. Through freight originating in Oakland comes out of West Oakland Yard or Desert Yard. The latter yard was recently reduced from 17 tracks to five, to make room for realignment of Interstate 880 through Oakland. This construction, still in progress, also forced relocation of 2.2 miles of SP main line in 1995. East Oakland Yard was rebuilt in 1995 and is now used to hold non-inter modal cars bound for local industries. The Richmond Drag, a switch engine that works industries between Oakland and Richmond, originated out of East Oakland Yard for a few years, but now comes out of West Oakland Yard.

    In addition to UP trains, West Oakland Yard hosts the Burlington Northern & Santa Fe local. This train originates at BNSF's Richmond Yard and comes onto the Cal-P at nearby Stege. It interchanges with UP and Oakland Terminal at Oakland every day and continues on to Warm Springs (30 miles south of Oakland) three or four days per week. From Emeryville to Richmond, the Cal-P is lined with industries. Despite its gentrification, Berkeley still has several companies served by the railroad, including Flint Ink (formerly Cal Ink) and Pacific Steel Casting Company.

    BELOW: A few F40PHs and P32-8BWHs in Amtrak colors currently help out along San Pablo Bay, but are scheduled to be replaced by Amtrak F59PHls in early 1998. complex remain plus the company houses near the Cal-P main line, which have been refurbished and sold to the public as the Historic Homes of Hercules. ABOVE: The Pacific Refining Company's crude oil storage tanks are seen behind Extra 8110 West on September 25, 1985. LEFT: A San Joaquin, No. 712, led by Space Oddity 2001, passes Hercules on April 3, 1996. BELOW: The WCKFM glides through Pinole.
    RailNews - December 1997 - Page 38 RailNews - December 1997 - Page 39

    Along San Pablo Bay

    Once past Richmond, eastbound trains leave urban in dustrialization behind and cruise along the shores of San Pablo Bay.

    The city of Pinole plans to build a footbridge over the tracks, extending a hiking trail from the Pinole Shores Regional Shoreline towards Hercules and beyond. Photographers take note: The plan calls for the trail to be located on the bay side of the SP all the way from Pinole to Rodeo (pronounced Ro-DAY-oh), with a four-foot-high chain-link fence along the tracks, altering most of the best bayside photo spots west of Crockett. Westward, the trail will also link the shoreline with Point Pinole Regional Park, four miles away in north Richmond at the old location of Giant on the SP. Traces of the Giant Powder Company, a dynamite and gun powder works that operated here from 1892 to 1960, can also be found in the park. America's first dynamite plant, the company supplied explosives for mining and industrial projects throughout the West. All of the buildings are gone, but the huge earth berms that surrounded them (built to contain potential explosions), and the rights-of-way of both the SP and the Powder Company tracks can still be found.

    The city of Hercules, just east of Pinole, gets its name from another defunct dynamite plant, the Hercules Powder Company. A few structures from this huge

    After nine miles of relatively unspoiled scenery, the Cal-P again encounters heavy industry at Rodeo. On the Hercules-Rodeo border are the crude oil storage tanks of the Pacific Refining Company. On the east side of Rodeo is the sprawling Unocal refinery complex, whose property surrounds the only tunnel on the Cal-P at Oleum and extends east two miles to Selby, the former site of the ASARCO (American Smelting and Refining Company) smelter.

    Like the Cal-P as a whole, the portion of the line along San Pablo Bay is a curious blend of scenery and heavy industry.

    BELOW: The PTOAT makes its way to Oakland in care of a once-typical Cal-P consist: an S09E, an SW 1500, and a Geep. LEFT: A freshly rebuilt SD4DR moves past the sugar mill complex at Crockett on September 25, 1988. BELOW: Having set out its autoracks at the unloading facility in Benicia, an abbreviated KCOAF slips through Eckley, east of Crockett, on January 11, 1998.
    RailNews - December 1997 - Page 40 RailNews - December 1997 - Page 41

    The Carquinez Strait

    The railroad turns due east at Crockett for the run along the Carquinez Strait to Martinez. This trackage along the hills of the Coast Range offers some of the best trackside scenery in the Bay Area, as well as a few historic spots. One of these is Crockett. A classic company town, Crockett is home to the California Hawaiian Sugar Company, an eight-story brick edifice that began life in the 1880s as a flour mill. Today, it is one of the world's largest sugar refineries, receiving raw Hawaiian cane sugar off-loaded from ships docked at the plant.

    Prior to the coming of the railroads, Contra Costa County was an important grain shipping point as schooners and brigs plied the coastal waters. Today, pilings from the once-extensive docks are all that remain. At one time, Eckley housed the company, a grain warehouse, and a dozen homes; now, it's a ghost town.

    Port Costa, two miles east of Crockett, was the location of the railroad ferry slip until 1930, when the Suisun Bay Bridge was completed. The yard and engine facility, needed to serve local industries, lived on and was home to both steam and diesel switchers through the late 1950s. Today, Port Costa is a sleepy artists' colony.

    At Roseville, with the difficult mountain climbs behind them, hot trains frequently swapped their big power for venerable first-generation "clunkers" for the water-level run to Oakland.

    The PTOAT still runs daily on the Cal-P, now using the UP symbol IBROA (Brooklyn Yard, Portland Oakland intermodal); however, it normally runs at night. Common daily daytime trains include the MEUOA (Eugene, Oregon-Oakland manifest); its eastbound counterpart MOAEU; the ILAOA (Los Angeles-Oakland intermodal); the Ai-INOA or AKSOA (Herington, Kansas-Oakland autos), and the ZG10A (Chicago-Oakland Global One priority intermodal). The AHNOA or AKSOA (the train runs with either symbol) is the former KCOAF. It sets out autoracks at Bahia for delivery to the unloading facility in Benicia.

    The ZG1OA is a new train that started in March 1997. Running on a 53-hour schedule from Chicago to Oakland, it is UP's competition for BNSF's ZWSPNBY9 (formerly symbol 199). Union Pacific hopes this train will divert United Parcel Service and other hot traffic to its rails. (Traversing a longer route, BNSF's Z-WSPNBY9 is still the fastest freight train in the country, taking 52 hours to go from Willow Springs, near Chicago, to the Northbay facility in outer Richmond). The ZGlOA usually appears mid day to early afternoon. Its eastbound counterpart ZOACH is called at 4 a.m. at Oakland, and thus usually traverses most of the Cal-P before sunrise. These trains normally run with UP or Chicago & North Western power. Union Pacific has made its presence known, with a large influx of UP power flowing onto the former SP since the merger. Currently, about half of the freights on the Cal-P are guided by UP locomotives.

    Occasionally, the eastbound loaded CRIGV (Rich-mond-Geneva coal), or its westbound empty counter part CGVRJ, will appear on the Cal-P' These trains often have two big a.c. locomotives leading. The CRJGV is a unit train of imported coke off-loaded from ships at Richmond and bound for the steel mill at Geneva, Utah.

    Usually five or six through freights can be seen on the Cal-P in daylight, with six or seven more running at night. Sometime soon, UP is expected to divert Oakland-bound traffic from its (former Western Pacific) Altamont Pass line, adding a couple of trains each way daily to the Cal-P.

    BELOW: An eastbound, experimental-paint SD40R 7342 glides over the Suisun Bay Bridge on April 1, 1984.
    RailNews - December 1997 - Page 42

    Martinez to Benicia

    Martinez is the focal point for many of the Cal-P's operations. It is the location of Ozol Yard, the Suisun Bay Bridge, and the junction with the Mococo line. The Mococo line, which connects Martinez to Tracy, is named after the Mountain Copper Company, formerly located just east of Martinez. The line currently sees no through freight, and with Amtrak's San Joaquins diverging onto the Santa Fe at Port Chicago six miles east of Martinez, is functionally abandoned between Pittsburg and Tracy. Union Pacific is currently upgrading the line, and plans to run freight on it soon. Opening the line will enable freight coming up the San Joaqui Valley from Southern California to save 53 miles on its way to the Bay Area, by avoiding the longer route via Sacramento.

    Ozol Yard, just west of downtown Martinez, serves local refineries and chemical plants, including the massive Shell Oil complex dominating central Martinez. Five locals originate from Ozol Yard every day except Sundays. Two of these, the Pittsburg Turn and the Ozol Local, operate with a road crew (engineer, conductor, and brakeman). The other three, the Crockett Rocket, the Benicia Flyer, and the Avon or Shell Switcher, are considered "switch engines" by UP and run with a yard crew (engineer, foreman, and switchman). The Pittsburg Turn, symbol L441, is called at 7 a.m. and runs on the Mococo line between Martinez and Pittsbura Power is usually one or two SP or UP Geeps. The Oz Local, symbol R390, is called in the evening. It operates east, usually as far as Davis, but sometimes all the way to Roseville. It often switches at Tolenas and Davis, and always works the yard at Suisun (pronounced soo-SOON). Running at night, the Ozol uses the same locomotives that the Pittsbura Turn used during the day.

    The Crockett Rocket, called at 7 a.m. and again at 3 p.m., is powered by a single SW1500 and switches in dustries between Martinez and Richmond includina the C&H plant at Crockett, the Rodeo refineries, and Point Pinole Steel near Giant. The Benicia Flyer is also SW1500-powered and is called both morning and afternoon. It travels over the bridge to Benicia and works the Exxon and Huntway refineries, a grain facility, and the huge automobile unloading facility there. The Avon or Shell Switcher works refineries at Martinez and Avon in the afternoon. On Sundays, a Crockett Rocket is called only in the morning, and occasionally it also works at Benicia.

    Power and cars for the steel train, symbols KAPG UlPGKAU (Kaiser Steel-Pittsburg unit train), can often be found at Ozol Yard. This train brings coiled steel from Kaiser Steel at Fontana, California, to the USS-POSCO plant at Pittsburg. Originally run via the coast, this train now operates via the valley, Elvas Tower in Sacramento, and Ozol.

    ABOVE: Early morning sun glints off an Officer's Special meeting a manifest train at the west end of Ozol Yard on August 1, 1984. BELOW: On July 31, 1997, the AHNOA sets out autorack cars at Bahia.
    RailNews - December 1997 - Page 43

    In addition to these locals, through locals' RVOAL and OARVL (Roseville-Oakland), symbols 394 and 395, traverse the entire Cal-P. Called at 6 or 7 p.m., both run mostly in darkness.

    Oakland was home to SP's office car fleet, and classic passenger trains of varying lengths were dispatched across the system for business and entertaining. What shipper could resist the enticement of a ride on the office cars!

    The only significant grades on the Cal-P are on either side of the Suisun Bay Bridge, 0.9 percent on the eastbound approach and 1.4 percent on Track 2 west bound. The bridge, a series of pin-connected trusses, is the largest railroad bridge west of the Mississippi River. A lift span over the ship channel allows ocean-going competition to reach up river to the ports of Stockton and West Sacramento. A marvel when completed in 1930, the Suisun Bay Bridge is overshadowed today by the Interstate 680 bridge built just downstream.

    Once across the strait, the Cal-P becomes a raceway across marshes and agricultural lands to Sacramento. This section of the Cal-P is subject to flooding during high tides when winter rains have swollen the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers. Bahia, Spanish for "bay," is then known to local rail roaders as Bay High!

    RIGHT: On September 1, 1983, the Woodland Local scurries back to Roseville across the agricultural land east of Davis. BELOW: A Davis Local lords the bay at Bahia on January 30, 1987.
    RailNews - December 1997 - Page 44

    Suisun-Davis-Sacramento

    The 51-mile stretch from Benicia to Sacramento has a different character from the westem portion of the Cal-P. It is an open and flat racetrack for 79 mph Amtrak Capitols, Zephyrs, and Starlights anxious to make up the distance between towns. Signals protect the junction with the line to Woodland and Tehama, now the province of California Northern Railroad. California Northern also operates the former SP line from Schellville to Suisun.

    The Coast Range is a solid wall to the west; once through Davis, the Cal-P will skirt southwest to Suisun Bay. Today the Dixon Turn (symbol R398-L2) works the east end of the Cal-P, interchanging with the California Northern at Davis.

    Built as a wide pan to hold winter flood waters from the Sacramento River, the Yolo Bypass between Sacramento and Davis is dry in summer months. Today the causeway is single track, and a bottleneck when a Capitol, the Zephyr, and a waddling UP drag all converge. The formerly all double track Cal-P recently was converted to single track from here to the other side of the causeway, a distance of 4.1 miles. With the addition of Capitol trains and a projected increase in freight traffic from the UP-SP merger, this section may someday be doule-tracked again, though it would involve rebuilding the causeway.

    Three miles after leaving the causeway, eastbound trains cross the I Street Bridge into downtown Sacramento. At the east end of the bridge lie the California State Railroad Museum and the Sacramento Amtrak Station. Just across the tracks from the station is the old Sacramento Shops. In addition to carrying out heavy repairs of all types for CP and SP, the shops constructed 195 steam engines between 1873 and 1937, including 49 SP 4-8-2s. In the 1970s and 1980s, over 800 diesels were rebuilt here under SP's General Rehabilitation and Improvement Program (GRIP). These included SP's GP9, SD9, GP35, and SD40 fleets, and many SD45s and SD45T-2s. The shops are idle now, and the grounds surrounding them are used to store old SP equipment and most of the museum's Santa Fe steam and diesel engines. On the east side of Sacramento, trains encounter Elvas Tower, the junction with the San Joaquin Valley line to Fresno and Bakersfield. After passing Elvas, Cal-P trains complete their runs 11 miles farther east at Antelope, the west end of Roseville Yard.

    Now under UP's flag, the Cal-P will continue to thrive as the westernmost segment of the historic Over land Route, continually offering variety in both trains and scenery.

    Eric Blasko is a biochemist who lives in central California with his wife and three-year-old mini-railfan son.

    Brian Jennison has been photographing rail-related subjects for more than 30 years and frequently contributes to RN.

    Article Details

    • Original Author Eric Blasko and Brian Jennison
    • Source RailNews
    • Publication Date December 1997

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3 comments
  • Ron Catoire likes this
  • Ron Catoire
    Ron Catoire Great article.
    May 27, 2011
  • John  Warren
    John Warren My wife greatly enjoyed this article as she use to ride her horse in this area.
    May 27, 2011
  • TrainLife Staff
    TrainLife Staff I'm glad to hear the article was enjoyed! I lived in the area, and it was fun reading about my old stomping grounds as well.
    June 1, 2011