San Francisco, Napa and Calistoga Railway

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San Francisco, Napa and Calistoga Railway
Napa interurban station 1917 postcard.jpg
SFN&C station in Napa in the 1910s
LocaleVallejo-Napa-St. Helena-Calistoga
Dates of operation1905–1937
SuccessorGreyhound, Navy Department
Track gauge4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Length42 miles

The San Francisco, Napa and Calistoga Railway, later briefly reorganized as the San Francisco and Napa Valley Railroad, was an electric interurban railroad in the U.S. state of California.[1][2]


In 1901, Col. J.W. Hartzell and his brother H.F. Hartzell secured a franchise to build an electric railway line, which allowed them the right to build on city streets and along county roads. The line paralleled much of the already existing route of the Napa Valley Railroad. In April 1902, the Benicia, Vallejo & Napa Valley Railroad Company was incorporated. The line originated at the port of Vallejo where it met the ferry connecting to San Francisco. From there, it headed northwards for a total of 41.7 miles (67.1 km)[3] to terminate at Calistoga, passing through Napa, Yountville, Oakville, Rutherford, and St. Helena. Construction of the railroad commenced in 1903 and trains began running from Vallejo to Napa following a grand opening on July 4, 1905. The line was extended to Yountville by 1907 and on January 1, 1908 the line extended St. Helena and followed by Calistoga on September 2, 1908. The railroad went through several reorganizations and name changes throughout its lifetime. It was named San Francisco, Vallejo & Napa Valley Railroad in 1906 and 1911 it was renamed San Francisco, Napa & Calistoga Railway Company. The railroad remained in operation until 1936. In 1938 22 miles (35 km) of track and power lines between Napa and Calistoga were removed.[4]


The electrically powered railroad was the first west of the Mississippi River to operate on alternating current. Much of the early passenger equipment consisted of graceful wooden cars manufactured by Niles and very similar to some equipment of the Sacramento Northern Railway. By 1931 the line operated 9 motor passenger cars with 5 unpowered trailer passenger cars, and one electric locomotive with twenty freight cars. The line used 25 Hz AC at 3,300 Volts[3] rather than the direct-current equipment used on most interurban railroads.[5]

Two steel cars built in 1933 were the last traditional interurban cars built in the United States before PCC streetcars were designed.[6]

1913 wreck[edit]

On June 19, 1913, two trains of the San Francisco, Napa and Calistoga Railway collided head-on in the worst interurban accident in the state of California.[7] Thirteen people were killed.[8]


Passenger service continued despite several setbacks until 1937, when the ferry service was discontinued; without the ferry traffic, the line could not survive. The last passenger trains operated on September 12 of that year, and the last mail trains on September 30. On February 13, 1938, a farewell excursion train was operated between Vallejo and Napa for the Electric Railway Historical Society of California.

Following the end of passenger service, the company continued with bus service to San Francisco, but sold it to Greyhound in 1942. A stretch of track north of St. Helena was taken over by the Southern Pacific and used as a freight spur into the 1980s. The freight service to Mare Island Naval Shipyard remained as a subsidiary of the Sacramento Northern Railway until taken over by the Navy Department in 1956.[9] In 1957 the company was dissolved.

Mare Island Naval Shipyard[edit]

Electric locomotives served the shipyard from 1919 until the overhead electric lines became a hazard for cranes installed during wartime expansion. Two GE 44-ton switchers numbered 30 and 40 took over shipyard operations in April 1942, and were joined by number 50 in August 1943. Number 40 became Sacramento Northern Railway #141 when the shipyard resumed peacetime operations in 1946. The two remaining engines were replaced by similar models owned by the United States Navy in 1956. Number 30 became Sacramento Northern Railway #147 while number 50 became Petaluma and Santa Rosa Railroad #3.[10]


The parallel SFNCR and SP rights of way can still clearly be seen in Calistoga, where the terminus of the SFNCR track is still visible in the pavement on Washington Street just southeast of Lincoln Avenue, whereas the SP Depot is a block farther northeast on Lincoln at Fair Way (formerly Railroad Avenue). There is an historical marker across the street from the Calistoga Fire Department, which is on the location of the SFNCR depot.

The railroad's former car barn located at Sixth Street and Soscol Avenue in Napa is still standing.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Swett & Aitken
  2. ^ Hilton & Due, pp. 403-404.
  3. ^ a b Demoro (1986) p.201
  4. ^ Stockwell, Tom (August 6, 2015). "Before the car, an electric railroad ruled the Napa Valley". Napa Valley Register. Napa, CA: Lee Enterprises, Inc. Retrieved August 8, 2015.
  5. ^ Brennan, Nancy (2010-04-11). "Shock of the new: Harry Ayres and Napa's electric railway". Napa Valley Register. Retrieved 2010-04-14.
  6. ^ Demoro (1986) p.116
  7. ^ Swett & Aitken, pp.189-209.
  8. ^ Demoro (1986) p.118
  9. ^ Guido
  10. ^ Guido, pp.3-10
  11. ^ Courtney, Kevin (2009-12-20). "Hidden history in Napa". Napa Valley Register. Retrieved 2013-02-11.