San Francisco and San Jose Railroad

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
San Francisco and San Jose Railroad
Locomotive #11 of the SF&SJ.
HeadquartersSan Francisco, California
LocaleSan Francisco Peninsula
Santa Clara Valley
Dates of operation1863 (1863)–1870 (1870)
SuccessorSouthern Pacific; Caltrain
Track gauge4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge

The San Francisco and San Jose Railroad (SF&SJ) was a railroad which linked the communities of San Francisco and San Jose, California, running the length of the San Francisco Peninsula. The company incorporated in 1860 and was one of the first railroads to employ Chinese laborers in its construction.[1] It opened the first portion of its route in 1863, completing the entire 49.5-mile (80 km) route in 1864. The company was consolidated with the Southern Pacific Railroad in 1870. Today, Caltrain and the Union Pacific Railroad continue to operate trains over the company's original route.


A railroad between San Francisco and San Jose was planned as early as 1849–50, leading to the creation of The Pacific and Atlantic Railroad Company (P&A) on September 6, 1851.[2] The route was surveyed and published by the end of 1851, but the P&A was unable to raise funds locally; when the P&A turned to banking houses in New York and England, they were told that no funds could be disbursed without first obtaining local capital.[2] The company reorganized on October 29, 1853, just before the expiration of the construction permit, and US$2,000,000 (equivalent to $61,460,000 in 2019) of stock was drawn up for sale, but an untimely downturn in the economy meant no investors were forthcoming.[2]

Public sentiment again turned to the idea of constructing a railroad in 1857–58[2] and a new San Francisco and San Jose Railroad Company was incorporated in late 1859 with the idea to raise public funds by putting a referendum to the voters of the three counties served (San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara) asking them to purchase a total of US$900,000 (equivalent to $25,610,000 in 2019) in stock of the new company.[2] This was portrayed in the news as "an attempted fraud upon the tax-payers of the counties" and the company dissolved in June 1860.[2] A new SF&SJ incorporated on August 18, 1860[3] with San Francisco industrialist Peter Donahue stepping in as treasurer, choosing his friends Judge Timothy Dame as president and Henry Newhall, a successful San Francisco auctioneer, as vice-president, and placing the company headquarters in San Francisco. Donahue, Dame and Newhall are thus credited as the three co-founders of the line.

Funding and construction[edit]

The construction contractors (Houston & McLaughlin) agreed to be paid $2 million consisting of $500,000 in cash, $500,000 in county-issued bonds, $500,000 in mortgage bonds, and $500,000 in company stock in exchange for completing the line between San Francisco and San Jose by October 1, 1863.[2] The SF&SJ issued US$2,000,000 (equivalent to $56,910,000 in 2019) of stock in 1861 to fund construction, owned by the following major shareholders:[2][4]

  • US$300,000 (equivalent to $8,540,000 in 2019), City of San Francisco
  • US$100,000 (equivalent to $2,850,000 in 2019), County of San Mateo
  • US$200,000 (equivalent to $5,690,000 in 2019), County of Santa Clara
  • US$500,000 (equivalent to $14,230,000 in 2019), construction contractors (A.H. Houston and C. McLaughlin)
  • US$285,300 (equivalent to $8,120,000 in 2019), other individual shareholders
  • US$500,000 (equivalent to $14,230,000 in 2019) (approximately), retained by SF&SJ

Voters in the counties of San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara passed the propositions to purchase the stock in May 1861.[2] The cost per mile was approximately US$40,000 (equivalent to $1,140,000 in 2019), based on a total cost of $2 million for 49.3 miles (79.3 km) of rail, comparable to the average cost per rail mile based on railroads built nationwide through 1861.[2] However, the actual cash on hand was limited to the amount contributed by the three counties and approximately $100,000 from individual subscribers.[2] With the Civil War consuming men and material, iron suppliers were only willing to deal with cash, not credit, and several members of the SF&SJ board of directors, including Peter Donahue, Henry Newhall, and Charles Polhemus used their personal influence and effort to secure material for the railroad.[2]

Construction wage scale on railroads, at $27 per month with board, was substantially lower than that of common laborers in the mines or in the cities at the time. Partly because of the low wage scale, the SF&SJ Railroad was one of the first railroad to experiment with hiring Chinese railroad workers to keep cost down.[1][5] Hiring Chinese in the early and mid 1860s was not controversial and garnered few notices, as it was a short period of time relatively free of anti-Chinese sentiments.[6]

Grading and construction of the line began on July 15, 1861[3] and it opened for excursion service between San Francisco and Menlo Park on October 17, 1863.[4] The first train left Mission Station at approximately 10:30 AM consisting of six passenger cars, two baggage cars, and one freight car pulled by two locomotives carrying approximately 400 passengers.[4] The train ran to the end of the line in Mayfield before turning around and returning to Menlo Park, where the passengers disembarked for a SF&SJ-sponsored picnic.[4] Among the passengers enjoying that day's excursion were the Governors Leland Stanford (of California) and A. C. Gibbs (of Oregon).[4]

The shrill whistle of the engine, and the rattling of the cars so lately heard in your beautiful valley for the first time, will be sounds familiar to your children and children's children, until the angel, with one foot upon the sea and the other upon the dry land, shall declare that time shall be no more. Hereafter the citizens of San José and those of San Francisco will be neighbors, while the little county of San Mateo extends one hand over the iron track to her proud city sister of San Francisco, and the other to her charming rural sister of Santa Clara, and enfolds them in an embrace that can never be broken.

— Timothy Guy Phelps, Speech at the inauguration of service, January 16, 1864[2]

A few months later, the line to San Jose was completed on January 16, 1864.[2] The first train to San Jose departed at 9:55 AM and arrived in Santa Clara nearly three hours later after "liberal stopping periods" in San Mateo and Redwood City.[2] The second train departed at 11:15 AM after adding several cattle cars to accommodate the estimated 700–800 passengers; that second train stopped briefly in San Mateo to take on fuel and water, and proceeded past waiting passengers at Redwood City and Mountain View, arriving in Santa Clara by 12:45 PM.[2] The two trains proceeded together to San Jose just after 1:00 PM, and were greeted by a thirteen-gun salute upon arrival.[2] After several speeches by SF&SJ leaders and local dignitaries, a large barbecue was held, with the first return train departing around 4:00 PM, pulled by three locomotives, and the second return train departing around 9:00 PM.[2]

The railroad cut what had previously been an eight-hour trip by "steamboat and stagecoach" to three-and-a-half hours.[7] In February 1864, the SF&SJ advertised regular passenger service on four trains per day, with the trip scheduled to take two hours, twenty minutes each way.[8] More importantly, it opened a new economical means to transport goods to market. With the decline of placer mining, the completion of the railroad enabled the ascendancy of agriculture as a major new industry in California.[6]

Southern Pacific and later years[edit]

The Southern Pacific Railroad (SP) acquired the company in March 1868,[3] and the Southern Pacific and Central Pacific were consolidated as the Southern Pacific on October 12, 1870,[3] nearly seven years to the day after the first trains ran between San Francisco and Menlo Park.[9]:214 SP upgraded the line in the early 20th century by laying down a second track and building several alternative routes and shortcuts, including the Dumbarton Cutoff, which created the first bridge across San Francisco Bay; and the Bayshore Cutoff, which rerouted the line between San Francisco and San Bruno to the east of San Bruno Mountain, along the San Francisco Bay shoreline. The alignment of BART in San Mateo County follows the right-of-way established by the SF&SJ west of San Bruno Mountain that was abandoned with the opening of the Bayshore Cutoff.

In 1977 SP petitioned the California Public Utilities Commission to discontinue the Peninsula Commute service, and the State of California took over financial responsibility in July 1980. SP eventually sold the entire Peninsula Commute right-of-way to the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board in 1991, which currently operates the commuter rail service known as Caltrain over the route. The Union Pacific Railroad maintains trackage rights over the line for freight traffic.[10]


San Francisco & San Jose Railroad Stations, Fares, and Timetable[4][8][11]
Distance[a] Station Elevation[b] Fares[c]
(Oct 1863)
October 1863[d] February 1864
NB#1[e] SB#2 NB#3 SB#4 NB#5 SB#6 NB#7 SB#8 NB#1 SB#2 NB#3 SB#4
San Francisco[f] n/a 10:30 AM
8:30 AM
12:40 PM
10:40 AM
3:00 PM
1:00 PM
6:35 PM
4:30 PM
9:50 AM
8:00 AM
5:50 PM
4:00 PM
2 14 mi
3.6 km
Mission n/a [g]
4 mi
6.4 km
Brannan's n/a [g]
4 14 mi
6.8 km
Bernal n/a [g]
6 14 mi
10.1 km
San Miguel n/a[h] [g]
9 mi
14 km
School House n/a 0.60
11 12 mi
18.5 km
Twelve-Mile Farm 12 ft
3.7 m
14 14 mi
22.9 km
San Bruno n/a 0.70
16 34 mi
27.0 km
Seventeen Mile House 6 ft
1.8 m
20 34 mi
33.4 km
San Mateo 22 ft
6.7 m
9:30 AM
9:35 AM
11:40 AM
11:45 AM
2:00 PM
2:05 PM
5:35 PM
5:35 PM
8:55 AM
8:55 AM
4:55 PM
4:55 PM
25 mi
40 km
Belmont 32 ft
9.8 m
28 14 mi
45.5 km
Redwood City 17 ft
5.2 m
9:00 AM
10:00 AM
11:05 AM
12:10 PM
1:20 PM
2:30 PM
5:00 PM
6:00 PM
8:30 AM
9:20 AM
4:30 PM
5:20 PM
28 34 mi
46.3 km
East Redwood City n/a [g]
32 12 mi
52.3 km
Menlo Park n/a 1.65
8:25 AM
10:20 AM
10:30 AM
12:30 PM
12:45 PM
2:50 PM
4:30 PM
6:20 PM
34 12 mi
55.5 km
Mayfield 27 ft
8.2 m
1.75 8:00 AM
6:45 PM
37 34 mi
60.8 km
Castro's[j] n/a [g] No service
40 mi
64 km
Mountain View[j] 96 ft
29 m
43 34 mi
70.4 km
Laurence's[j] n/a [g]
46 12 mi
74.8 km
Santa Clara[j] 73 ft
22 m
2.35 7:40 AM
10:10 AM
3:40 PM
6:10 PM
49 34 mi
80.1 km
San José[j] 87 ft
27 m
2.80 7:30 AM
10:20 AM
3:30 PM
6:20 PM
  1. ^ Distance along line from San Francisco station at Brannan between Third and Fourth
  2. ^ Height above sea level
  3. ^ One-way fare from San Francisco to listed station, unless otherwise noted
  4. ^ One-day excursion service offered October 25, 1863
  5. ^ Train numbering is speculative, but follows current convention: odd-numbered trains run north, even-numbered trains run south.
  6. ^ Located at the corner of 4th and Brannan
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h Fare not listed; estimated at approximately $0.05 per mile over ten miles, slightly higher per-mile rate for rides less than ten miles
  8. ^ Track elevation reaches a peak of 295 ft (90 m) at Abbey Summit as the line traverses San Bruno Mountain.
  9. ^ a b c Roundtrip excursion fare from San Francisco
  10. ^ a b c d e Although listed as a station, service did not extend south past Mayfield until January 1864.


The Daily Alta California (October 1863) called this SF&SJ segment the westernmost portion of the transcontinental Pacific Railroad, with another section planned by the Western Pacific Railroad Company to connect San Jose with Sacramento, where it would join with the Central Pacific's rail line being built then east to Truckee.[4] In order to preserve planned compatibility with transcontinental rail traffic, the line was laid at what is now standard gauge width using redwood ties and 50-pound-per-yard (25 kg/m) rail.[4][9]:214

The line was completed as a single track with no tunnels and only a few bridges, the longest of which was a 240-foot (73 m) trestle over Islais Creek.[4] The most extensive cut required was only 35 feet (11 m) deep and 14 mile (0.40 km) long. In October 1863, the line had only been partially completed between the Mission and Mayfield stations; the Daily Alta noted the SF&SJ had been negotiating with the Market Street Railway and speculated the SF&SJ might use the Market Street Railway approach to Fourth Street in San Francisco.[4]

Map of the northern end of the SF&SJ Railroad (1862).

Rolling stock[edit]

The SF&SJ started excursion service in October 1863 with three locomotives, six passenger cars, and approximately twenty freight cars.[4] Each engine cost US$15,000 (equivalent to $310,000 in 2019) and could haul six passenger cars; the passenger cars cost US$3,500 (equivalent to $70,000 in 2019) each and had a seated capacity of sixty passengers; the freight cars each cost approximately US$1,200 (equivalent to $20,000 in 2019).[4] The locomotives were named the San Francisco, San José, and T. Dame (after the president of the SF&SJ).[4]

With the exception of the single 0-4-0 switcher, number 8, all SF&SJ locomotives were the American 4-4-0 type typical of that era. The 17-ton San Francisco and San José were built in 1862 by Norris Locomotive Works of Philadelphia. The third locomotive was built in Massachusetts by Mason Machine Works, and weighed 30 tons. Locomotives numbered 4 and 5 weighing 23 tons each were built by Cooke Locomotive and Machine Works of New Jersey in 1863.[12]

The first full-sized steam locomotive produced in the state of California was built for the SF&SJ by the Union Iron Works in San Francisco. It was appropriately named the California. Its inaugural run was August 30, 1865, during which it set a speed record of 67 miles per hour (108 km/h).[13] Union Iron works also built a similar 28-ton locomotive number 7 and the 18-ton switcher number 8 in 1865. Norris built two more SF&SJ locomotives weighing 26 tons and 28 tons in 1867, while McKay and Aldus of Boston built two 30-ton locomotives. Rhode Island Locomotive Works built a 30-ton locomotive for SF&SJ in 1868, as did Cooke; and Schenectady Locomotive Works built two more. 1870 brought another 30-ton locomotive from Mason and two 33-ton locomotives from Cooke.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Chinn, Thomas W. (1969). "A history of the Chinese in California: A syllabus. The railroads". Chinese Historical Society of America. Retrieved 11 November 2019. One of the earliest employment of Chinese for railroad building was on the construction of the California Central Railroad. [1858, Sacramento Union] ...Henry George [1869, New York Tribune] asserted that Chinese laborers were also used in the construction of the San Jose Railroad in 1860.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r "Grand Celebration of the Opening of the San Jose Railroad". Daily Alta California. 16 (5070). 17 January 1864. Retrieved 19 April 2017.
  3. ^ a b c d Dunscomb, Guy L. (1963). A century of Southern Pacific steam locomotives, 1862–1962. Modesto, California: Modesto Printing Company. pp. 405–406. LCCN 63-14308. Retrieved 12 July 2016. SAN FRANCISCO & SAN JOSE RAILROAD Incorporated August 18, 1860. This road, 49.50 miles from San Francisco to San Jose, California, was built between July 15, 1861 and June 6, 1864. The original line went from 16th and Valencia Streets in San Francisco through Bernal Cut to San Bruno (San Miguel Rancho) and thence via the present location to San Jose.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m "The San Jose Railroad". Daily Alta California. 15 (4981). 18 October 1863. Retrieved 19 April 2017.
  5. ^ Coulter, Annie Deborah (1902). The Economic Aspect of the Chinese Labor Problem. Berkeley: University of California. Retrieved 17 December 2019.
  6. ^ a b Chiu, Ping (1963). Chinese labor in California, 1850-1880: An economic study. Madison, Wisconsin: State Historical Society of Wisconsin. p. 41-43. Though it was little known, the construction of the San Jose Railroad was a momentous event in the economic history of California. It was one of the very few major enterprises not designed primarily to serve the needs of the miners. Therefore, the foremost concern of the promoters and investors had been costs instead of completion date. A precedent for the low pay scale of construction laborers had thus been set.
  7. ^ McGovern, Janet (2012). Caltrain And The Peninsula Commute Service. Arcadia Publishing. ISBN 9780738576220.
  8. ^ a b "San Francisco And San Jose Railroad; Two Trains Daily, Each Way". California Farmer and Journal of Useful Sciences. 19 February 1864. Retrieved 19 April 2017.
  9. ^ a b Robertson, Donald B. (1998). Encyclopedia of Western Railroad History - Volume IV - California. Caldwell, ID: The Caxton Printers. ISBN 0-87004-385-4.
  10. ^ "Caltrain / UP Agreement FAQs". Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board. 1 March 2017. QUESTION: Will freight service continue to operate on the Caltrain Corridor?
    ANSWER: Yes. Freight service will remain on the corridor. The agreement provides that UP will explore the potential for a third party (short-line operator) to assume responsibility for freight operations in the corridor. If a short line operator is not selected, UP will continue to serve as the provider of freight service.
    Missing or empty |url= (help)
  11. ^ "San Francisco and San Jose Railroad. Excursion Trains for Sunday, October 25". Daily Alta California. 15 (4987). 24 October 1863. Retrieved 19 April 2017.
  12. ^ a b Best, Gerald M. (1954). "San Francisco & San Jose". The Western Railroader. Francis A. Guido. 17 (173): 7.
  13. ^ "About Henry Mayo Newhall". Henry Mayo Newhall Foundation. 2000. Retrieved 2007-04-20.

External links[edit]