Minuteman, May 2018
Our guest speaker, Henry Baum, is president of the Pacific Locomotive Association, and spoke about the Niles Canyon Railway. The Pacific Locomotive Association was founded in 1965 by six train aficionados, who saw the end of the steam trains. They formed and operated the Castro Point Railway at Point Molate Naval Fuel Depot in Richmond, California. They operated the Sierra Railroad at Jamestown, California. The association has eight steam locomotives, with three of them in working condition, and 13 diesel locomotives, all in working condition. They also have 29 passenger cars, 10 cabooses, and freight cars. One of the working locomotives is currently at the California State Railroad Museum in Old Sacramento. The association repairs, restores and operates trains and railroad tracks. The association spent 20 years restoring one dining car back to its original condition. When the Oakland Army Depot closed in 1999, one of the members of the Pacific Locomotive Association obtained track parts for use on association projects.
The original right-of-way for the Transcontinental Railroad was signed into law by President Lincoln on July 1, 1862, and the tracks were completed on May 10, 1869. A trip from New York to Sacramento (3,353 miles), which used to take months, was reduced to only seven days. Passengers and freight arriving in Sacramento would need to be transferred to a riverboat to complete the trip to San Francisco and Oakland. On June 4, 1876, the railroad set a record with a trip from New York to Sacramento in only 83 hours (the same trip now takes 75 hours). The Western Pacific Railroad attempted to extend the railway from San Jose to Stockton, but ran out of money at Niles Canyon. The Central Pacific Railroad took over, and completed the Niles Canyon to Stockton link. This railroad was important for the survival of the small towns of Niles, Sunol, Pleasanton, Livermore, Tracy, Lathrop, and Stockton. People who lived in Oakland would travel by train to Pleasanton, Sunol and Niles, and they became popular weekend getaways. Towns such as Scotts Corner were bypassed by the railroad, and they ceased to exist. Joyland Park was created at one of the stops on the railroad, and it was a popular weekend destination. It had a bandstand, and John Philip Sousa played there several times. William Randolph Hearst had a hunting lodge in Pleasanton, and there was a station at Verona for people taking the railroad to visit him.
In 1879, a shorter railway link between Oakland and Sacramento was opened by the California Pacific Railroad, and the Niles Canyon route was restricted to local traffic. In 1983, the Southern Pacific Railroad abandoned the line over the Altamont Pass into Niles Canyon. They removed the tracks, and re-located them to Arizona. By law, they deeded the abandoned right-of-way back to the adjoining landholder – Alameda County. In 1987, the Pacific Locomotive Association leased the Niles Canyon right-of-way from Alameda County, and reconstructed the tracks to reopen the Niles Canyon Railway. As an operating railroad, they are responsible to the Department of Transportation, Homeland Security, the California Public Utilities Commission, the California Department of Occupational Safety and Health, the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, and the Alameda County Emergency Operations Plan.
The Pacific Locomotive Association is able to assist in disasters. They have the manpower of 1,000 members and 200 active volunteers, and have $50 million in heavy equipment that can be used to assist emergency services in response to a local disaster. They are very concerned about wildfires, and have a fire truck to assist Cal Fire in an emergency. They have passenger coaches that can be used to temporarily house people who lost their homes in a fire. Safety is a very important issue: they test the railroad crossings monthly, and use an outside consultant to certify the tracks before they are put in operation. They have an in-house training program, and people can work their way up through the different programs: Brakeman, Conductor, Diesel Fireman, Diesel Engineer I, Diesel Engineer II, Steam Fireman, and Steam Engineer. Annual recertification is required. They are currently creating a modern train station utilizing old transportation containers. They acquired an old diesel hydraulic locomotive that had the front cut off so cameras could be mounted and used for filming movies. It was assumed that the train would never run again. An Englishman found the key missing parts that had been salvaged from another locomotive. In 2018, the locomotive was started for the first time in 45 years, and started up like it was brand new. In May 2019, the association will celebrate the 150th anniversary of the golden spike at Promontory Point, where the Central Pacific and Union Pacific lines met, completing the Transcontinental Railroad.
The Pacific Locomotive Association, a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization, is dedicated to the preservation of the physical aspects and atmosphere of the Pacific Coast railroads during the period of 1910 to 1960. They operate the Niles Canyon Railway, and have artifacts on display at the Niles Depot Museum in Fremont, California. They own a collection of locomotives and railroad cars in various states of restoration. Membership in the Pacific Locomotive Association is $48 per year, and members may ride on the weekend train for free, get members-only discounts in the store, and attend members-only events. They have no paid staff – they are all volunteers. They pay a $200 fee to the County of Alameda for the right-of-way, plus a percentage of their revenue. Their website is: http://www.ncry.org.