California Northern Railroad

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California Northern Railroad
California Northern Railroad logo.png
CFNR 105 EMD GP15-1.jpg
CFNR #105 EMD GP15-1.
HeadquartersDavis, California
Reporting markCFNR
LocaleNorthern California
Dates of operation1993–present
Track gauge4 ft 8+12 in (1,435 mm)
Length255 miles (410 km)[1]
California Northern Railroad
Schellville – Suisun
Trackage Rights NWP
Tehama – Davis
Branch to Hamilton
Tracy – Los Banos
UP Tracy Subdivision enlarge…
UP Oakland Subdivision enlarge…
Crows Landing
Los Banos

The California Northern Railroad (reporting mark CFNR) is one of several Class III short-line railroad companies owned by Genesee & Wyoming, Inc. It operates over Southern Pacific Railroad (SP) tracks (now Union Pacific Railroad) under a long-term lease.

The CFNR was originally owned by the Park-Sierra Rail Group (owner David L. Parkinson of St. Helena, California), who also owned the Arizona and California Railroad and the Puget Sound and Pacific Railroad. The CFNR was later sold to RailAmerica in 2002.[1] Genesee & Wyoming, another shortline holding company, bought RailAmerica in December 2012.

The railroad transports mainly food and agricultural commodities, as well as stone products. It moved around 26,000 carloads of goods in 2008.[1]

Lines Operated[edit]

SP & Old NWP (Suisun/Fairfield - Willits)[edit]

Current Suisun/Fairfield - Schellville[edit]

Presently, the CFNR only operates between Suisun/Fairfield to a connection with the Northwestern Pacific Railroad at Schellville, California. The CFNR also operated into Vallejo, California over the original California Pacific Railroad mainline that was constructed in 1867/1868. Due to the new construction of homes, apartments, and commercial buildings in 2010, the CFNR abandoned the line due to a new rail carrier coming in and operating the line. Mare Island Naval Base, in Vallejo, is coming back alive to the newly established Mare Island Rail Service out of Olympia with scrap metal, rock, and boating material being shipped in and out of the Island. A facility on the northern part of the island operated by rail contractor Alstom is currently repairing Capitol Corridor cars used by the Amtrak California fleet around the Bay Area for passenger service.

CFNR operates over the Union Pacific's Martinez Subdivision with trackage rights between Suisun/Fairfield and Davis during weeknights for power changes and the Suisun/Fairfield based Local which interchanges cars between Suisun/Fairfield and Davis.

1993 Operation between Schellville - Willits[edit]

Originally, in 1993 the CFNR operated much further than Schellville and their operation extended as far north as Willits, California. At Willits the CFNR interchanged with the North Coast Railroad. The North Coast Railroad ran from Willits - Eureka, California over the old NWP.

The CFNR also interchanged with the California Western Railroad at Willits. The California Western Railroad runs west from Willits to Fort Bragg, California.

Lombard Yard[edit]

Located in American Canyon, California, Lombard yard served as CFNR's headquarters for several years. Lombard Yard services such customers as Central Valley Builder's Supply, All Bay Mill & Lumber, Biagi Bros. Shipping, Hess Vineyards, and several others. Also home to CFNR's Lone Palm Shops, routine maintenance and small repairs are carried out by the CFNR shop crews there.

SP's West Valley Line (Davis - Tehama)[edit]

The CFNR currently operates over SP's former West Valley Line. This line between Woodland and Tehama was constructed by Central Pacific's subsidiary, the Northern Railway. The track between Davis and Woodland was built by the California Pacific Railroad and at one time extended as far north as Yuba City/Marysville via Knight's Landing.

The California Pacific and Northern Railway/Central Pacific came under the operational control of Southern Pacific between 1885 and 1888.

Construction Completion Timeline[edit]

  • September 23, 1869 Davis - Woodland - Knight's Landing (California Pacific Railroad)
  • July 1, 1876 Woodland - Williams (Northern Ry/Central Pacific)
  • December 28, 1879 Williams - Willows (Northern Ry/Central Pacific)
  • July 31, 1882 Willows - Orland (Northern Ry/Central Pacific)
  • September 27, 1882 Orland - Tehama (Northern Ry/Central Pacific)
  • July 1, 1888 Willows - Fruto [1] (West Side and Mendocino Railroad/Northern Ry) Branch currently ends at Johns-Manville Fiberglass Plant west of Willows

In 2009 CFNR repaired the Thomes Creek Bridge in Corning for a connection in Tehama, CA with the Union Pacific Railroad. Bell Carter Olive Company is still the primary customer on the Northern part of the line as well as Artois Feed & Grain in Artois. Other smaller customers are located in Richfield, Hamilton City, Willows, and Maxwell. Many customers on that end of the line have moved to private trucking companies to transport their goods due to lower prices.

SP's West Side Line (Tracy - Los Banos)[edit]

This mainline route was formerly known as Southern Pacific's "West Side Line" and at one time extended from Tracy, California and then south through the West side of the San Joaquin Valley (I-5 corridor) via Patterson, Gustine, Newman, Los Banos, Oxalis and then east to Fresno via Ingle and Kerman. California Northern Railroad now operates the northern section of the line from Tracy - Los Banos. SJVR operates the southern section of the line from Oxalis to Fresno and was at one time owned by Port Railroads, Inc. (PRI; also a Kyle subsidiary) and operated by the SJVR. On 1996 April 24 the PRI was merged into the SJVR. Both the PRI and SJVR were already Kyle Railway subsidiaries. The section of track between Los Banos and Oxalis was abandoned by Southern Pacific in 1993 and the tracks were removed soon after. The Southern Pacific constructed the track from Tracy to Newman (37 miles) and from Los Banos to Armona (near Fresno) in 1891. Southern Pacific's overnight Owl passenger train (#57/58) operated over this line between San Francisco and Los Angeles into the 1960s.

Primary traffic on the West Side Subdivision is food and agriculture based commodities such as tomatoes, tomato paste, grain and other agriculture goods. An ethanol facility located near Tracy is starting to maximize production which brings in more traffic for the CFNR including grain, corn and fuels used to run the facility to produce the ethanol. The Tracy Crew is a Monday-Friday operation but may work an occasional Saturday if a customer needs switching out. The crew base is located in Tracy, CA where CFNR interchanges with the Union Pacific Railroad.

CFNR Interchanges[edit]

Union Pacific Railroad:

Northwestern Pacific Railroad:

Napa Valley Railroad:

Mare Island Rail Service:


Pipe train[edit]

Napa Pipe was located at Rocktram, on the Napa branch. It closed in 2004 and was torn down. Between 1993 and 2004, California Northern ran a unit pipe train from Lombard to Roseville, CA. California Northern would pick up short cuts of cars from Napa Pipe, and assemble the train in Lombard yard, usually filling two tracks. The pipe trains would sometimes be combined with Rabanco's MSW (Material Solid Waste) trains, forming 100+ - car trains, sometimes with two sets of helpers.



Motive power for the California Northern had consisted of fourteen EMD GP15-1 locomotives, two EMD SD40 locomotives, two EMD SD9 locomotives, two EMD SD9E locomotives, and one EMD SW1500 locomotive, built between the late 1940s and 1970s.[2] Currently, California Northern owns twelve locomotives, as several have been sold to other railroad companies, including Union Pacific, Fillmore and Western Railway, Trans Canada Switching, Hudson Bay, Mosaic, Twin Mountain, and San Joaquin Valley Railroad. In 2009 the railroad began a program to replace their existing fleet with new fuel-efficient locomotives, known as "gensets", or 3GS21B-DE, built by National Railway Equipment.[3] 80 percent of the funding for the purchase of these new locomotives comes from a grant from the Carl Moyer Memorial Air Quality Standards Attainment Program at the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.

From 2009 to December 2011, the following GP15-1 locomotives had been moved from CFNR property to other RailAmerica properties across the entire system: CFNR 103, 104, 105, 106, 107, 108, 110, and 111. During that time, CFNR GP15-1's 109 and 112 were being kept as backup units in case any of the "gensets" had mechanical failures, if a train needed more motive power, or for special assignments within the CFNR property.[4] After G&W bought out Rail America in December 2012, CFNR GP15-1's 109, 112, and 113 were repainted and renumbered as CFNR 1568, 1569, and 1570 respectively.

In 2019 the railroad purchased a couple of Tier 4 low-emission locomotives, or KLW SE24B, that were built by the Knoxville Locomotive Works. Like the gensets, the railroad was granted $3.7 million from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District to purchase the locomotives. The president of CFNR, Brad Ovitt, said about the purchase, "We’re grateful to the Air District for making the purchase of these two low-emission, state-of-the-art locomotives feasible, as they provide benefits to the communities served by the railroad that would not be possible for us to do on a stand-alone basis. It’s a true win-win, public-private partnership."[5]


Builder's # Frame # Unit # Model Date of purchase Built as Bought as Build date Date of sale Disposition
757142-12 100 GP15-1 1993 C&NW 4411 C&NW 4411 1976 1996 Union Pacific 1542
757142-13 101 GP15-1 1993 C&NW 4412 C&NW 4412 1976 1996 Union Pacific 1543
757142-14 102 GP15-1 1993 C&NW 4413 C&NW 4413 1976 1996 Union Pacific 1544
757142-15 103 GP15-1 1993 C&NW 4414 C&NW 4414 1976 2011 Ventura County Railroad 1560
757142-16 104 GP15-1 1993 C&NW 4415 C&NW 4415 1976 2011 Puget Sound & Pacific 1572
757142-17 105 GP15-1 1993 C&NW 4416 C&NW 4416 1976 2011 DGNO 1566
757142-18 106 GP15-1 1993 C&NW 4417 C&NW 4417 1976 2011 Puget Sound & Pacific
757142-19 107 GP15-1 1993 C&NW 4418 C&NW 4418 1976 2005 DGNO
757142-20 108 GP15-1 1993 C&NW 4419 C&NW 4419 1976 2011 DGNO
757142-21 109 GP15-1 1993 C&NW 4420 C&NW 4420 1976 2011
757142-22 110 GP15-1 1993 C&NW 4421 C&NW 4421 1976 2005 PSAP 1573
757142-23 111 GP15-1 1993 C&NW 4422 C&NW 4422 1976 2011 DGNO
757142-24 112 GP15-1 1993 C&NW 4423 C&NW 4423 1976
757142-25 113 GP15-1 1993 C&NW 4424 C&NW 4424 1976 2011 Mare Island Rail Service
34973 4557-2 171 SW1500 Appalachicola Northern 713 LLPX 171 1969
23918 5555-8 200 SD9 DM&IR 138 Feb 1955 1999 GATX
23936 5555-28 201 SD9 DM&IR 156 Feb 1955 1999 GATX
20223 5381-1 202 SD9-E Southern Pacific 5372 Southern Pacific 4319 1958 Omnitrax
20228 5831-6 203 SD9-E Southern Pacific 5377 Southern Pacific 4331 1958 Omnitrax
058-0195 500 3GS21B-DE 2010 CFNR 500 CFNR 500 2010 N/A
058-0179 501 3GS21B-DE 2009 CFNR 501 CFNR 501 2009 N/A
058-0188 502 3GS21B-DE 2009 CFNR 502 CFNR 502 2009 N/A
058-0173 503 3GS21B-DE 2009 CFNR 503 CFNR 503 2009 N/A
058-0187 504 3GS21B-DE 2009 CFNR 504 CFNR 504 2009 N/A
058-0175 505 3GS21B-DE 2009 CFNR 505 CFNR 505 2009 N/A
757142-21 1568 GP15-1 C&NW 4420 CFNR 109 1976 N/A
757142-24 1569 GP15-1 C&NW 4423 CFNR 112 1976 N/A
757142-25 1570 GP15-1 2013 C&NW 4424 CFNR 113 1976 N/A
31453 5697-13 2269 GP38-2 2018 IC 3027 GTMX 2269 1966 N/A
2401 SE24B 2019 CFNR 2401 CFNR 2401 2019 N/A
2402 SE24B 2019 CFNR 2402 CFNR 2402 2019 N/A
7290-39 4097 SD40 2004 Penn Central 6278 NWP 6412 1971 2006 Central Oregon & Pacific
7290-44 4098 SD40 2004 Penn Central 6283 NWP 6413 1971 2006 Central Oregon & Pacific

Control Car Remote Control Locomotive[edit]

The California Northern had one Control Car Remote Control Locomotive (CCRCL) for a time, numbered 2019. Housed inside the frame of an ex-Santa Fe EMD GP20, the unit remained in Santa Fe's "Kodachrome" scheme until its sale.

Builder's # Frame # Unit # Model Date of purchase Built as Bought as Build date Date of sale Disposition
26829 7609-39 2019 CCRCL 2003 ATSF 1163 SDIY 2019 1961 2007 Central Oregon & Pacific

Rolling stock[edit]

In 1998, the California Northern leased fifty gondolas from Daniel J Joseph leasing, LTD (DJJX). Numbered 52001 – 52050, these cars remained on the CFNR for several years until their return to DJJX.


  1. ^ a b c "RailAmerica's Empire". Trains Magazine. Kalmbach Publishing. June 2010.
  2. ^ Edward Lewis
  3. ^ Staff. "N-ViroMotive 3GS-21B ULEL Switcher". National Railway Equipment. Retrieved March 4, 2015.
  4. ^ Treleven, Mike (August 9, 2009). "On track with a clean, efficient new locomotive". Napa Valley Register. Napa, CA: Lee Enterprises, Inc. Retrieved May 24, 2011.
  5. ^ "Tier 4 Low-Emission Locomotives Begin Work on California Northern Railroad". Business Wire. Retrieved 21 March 2020.
  • Lewis, Edward A. American Shortline Railway Guide - 5th Edition, Kalmbach Publishing Co., 1996. ISBN 0-89024-290-9
  • Robertson, Donald B. Encyclopedia of Western Railroad History - Volume IV - California, The Caxton Printers, Ltd., 1998. ISBN 0-87004-385-4
  • Walker, Mike. Steam Powered Video's Comprehensive Railroad Atlas of North America - Poster Merger Edition - California and Nevada, Steam Powered Publishing, 1997. ISBN 1-874745-08-0
  • Solomon, Brian. Railroads of California: The Complete Guide to Historic Trains and Railway Sites

External links[edit]