Western Rail Road Museum About Us
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History of the Sacramento Northern Railway

Roy Covert photo, BAERA Archives #16968

On September 3, 1913, the Oakland, Antioch and Eastern Railway opened its 93-mile route from San Francisco to Sacramento as a high-speed electric interurban railway. Constructed principally for passenger traffic, nine through trains in each direction sped through this then and still largely unpopulated section of Solano County. It is part of this historic railroad that the Association now owns.

In 1919, the OA&E was reorganized into the San Francisco - Sacramento Railroad. At the end of 1928, the SF - S was purchased by the Sacramento Northern Railway (formerly the Northern Electric Railway), a connecting interurban that ran from Sacramento, north to Chico. The newly merged line formed a through route of 184 miles.

The SN was owned by the Western Pacific who infused new capital into the venture and built a new line to connect the formerly isolated Suisun - Vacaville branch of the SN (originally built as the Vallejo Northern) with the mainline of the former SF - S.

J.G. Graham photo, BAERA Archives #17824

The onset of the great depression prevented the fulfillment of many of the plans that the WP intended for the Sacramento Northern. On August 28, 1940, passenger service over this portion of the line was abandoned.

WWII saw a tremendous increase in freight business because this route allowed the WP access to the new Oakland Army Terminal. Finally in 1953, thanks to trackage rights gained over other lines, the SN's ferryboat Ramon (used to transfer trains across Suisun Bay) was retired, the electrification north of the ferry to Sacramento was taken down, and the once high-speed mainline reverted to a very secondary branch.

With the abandonment of the ferry crossing in 1953, the line was kept for feed lot business at first, and later for its potential as a route to a potential port or coal-burning power station on the Suisun Bay, neither of which ever materialized. With the demise of these plans, the Union Pacific, which had acquired the line in 1987 by merger, decided to abandon the line.

Purchase of the Sacramento Northern Line

After extensive negotiations, UP agreed to work with the Association for donation of the underlying right of way under the Rails to Trails Act and sale of the improvements (rails and ties) to the Association at their scrap value. Still, the purchase of the nearly 22-miles of line from Montezuma on the south to Dozier on the north and from Dozier west to Canon (near Fairfield) cost BAERA $225,000 - raised nationally through donations from its members and friends.

Operations over the Sacramento Northern Line

Dudley Thickens photo, BAERA Archives #18714

Although regular passenger service on the Sacramento Northern line through Rio Vista Junction ended in 1940, many excursions were held over the SN with Association-owned equipment before de-electrification in 1953. In the 1960s and 1970s some trips, including trains of Key System bridge units hauled by an SN diesel or using Nevada Copper Belt gasoline motorcar #21, originated at the Museum and operated to Montezuma and Vacaville. In the pre-Amtrak era, popular "Rio Vista Junction Limited" excursions originated in the Bay Area and operated direct to the Museum with 21-car trains.

With declining freight service, the portion of the line between the Museum and Dozier (seven miles north of the Museum) was leased to the Association, first on a freight only basis. Eventually the lease was amended to allow the Museum to begin operation of its popular "Prairie Train" services that ran to the vernal pools at Jepson Prairie from 1985 - 1994.

To date, the Association has restored and re-electrified five miles of the old Sacramento Northern line to operation. The Western Railway Museum is one of the few places in the world that recreates an authentic interurban trip using original, restored rolling stock, running on the original rails. Although the overhead electrification is not original, it has been replicated to the original OA&E standards, using drawings and schematics preserved in our own archives. New electrification poles are placed within six inches of their original counterparts.

About Rio Vista Junction

From its opening, the OA&E offered connecting service via water from its Chipps ferry terminal to river towns such as the then important Collinsville and to Rio Vista and Isleton. In 1915, connecting bus service to Rio Vista began from Molena. In the early 1920s, when the new Highway 12 crossed the railroad at Creed (previously named Curtis), the railroad and Rio Vista Transit Co. built a joint transfer station here. The station was renamed Rio Vista Junction, and the bus connection operated from here to Rio Vista until the end of passenger service in 1940.

The bus line was abandoned with the SN's passenger service, but the name remained as a station on the SN, on the service station that operated here until the early 1950s and on road maps to this day. Although the Post Office address is Suisun City, the Museum is located at the rail station of Rio Vista Junction.

Stations and Mileposts

The following are Stations and Mileposts on the former SN main line now owned by the Western Railway Museum.

Milepost* Present Name Former Name
49.98 Montezuma  
51.97 Molena  
52.5 Birds Landing Road  
53.7 Gum Grove (Shiloh Road)  
55.38 Blacklock  
56.42 Garfield  
57.78 Rio Vista Junction (1922) Creed (1914)
Curtis (1913)
59.5 Denverton(1926) Solano City(1913)
60.78 Creed (1925) Reservoir
63.7 Olcott Dixon Junction(1914)
Rio Junction(1913)
64.55 Dozier  

*SN measured miles from San Francisco via the Key Pier