South Pacific Coast Railroad

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South Pacific Coast Railroad
HeadquartersNewark, California
Reporting markSPC
LocaleCalifornia's San Francisco Bay Area
Dates of operationMarch 29, 1876–July 1, 1887
SuccessorsSouth Pacific Coast Railway
Southern Pacific Transportation Company
Track gauge4 ft 8+12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge after 1909
Previous gauge3 ft (914 mm)
Length77.5 miles (124.7 km)
Route map

San Francisco
ferry link
Alameda Mole
Park Street
High Street
West San Leandro
West San Lorenzo
Mt. Eden
Santa Clara
San Jose
Los Gatos & San Jose Road
Union Avenue
Le Frances
Almaden Crossing
New Almaden
Los Gatos
Summit Tunnel (#1)
Laurel Tunnel (#2)
Mountain Charlie Tunnel (#3)
Zayante Tunnel (#4)
Boulder Creek
Ben Lomond
Big Trees
Rincon Tunnel (#5)
Tunnel 7
Mission Hill Tunnel (#6)
Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz Beach

The South Pacific Coast Railroad (SPC) was a 3 ft (914 mm) narrow gauge steam railroad running between Santa Cruz, California and Alameda, with a ferry connection in Alameda to San Francisco. The railroad was created as the Santa Clara Valley Railroad, founded by local strawberry growers as a way to get their crops to market in San Francisco and provide an alternative to the Southern Pacific Railroad. In 1876, James Graham Fair, a Comstock Lode silver baron, bought the line and extended it into the Santa Cruz Mountains to capture the significant lumber traffic coming out of the redwood forests. The narrow-gauge line was originally laid with 52-pound-per-yard (26 kg/m) rail on 8-foot (2.44 m) redwood ties;[1] and was later acquired by the Southern Pacific and converted to 4 ft 8+12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge.



"Views on the South Pacific Coast Railroad" featuring locations in Santa Cruz County (1882)
Schedule and fares for March 4, 1887

SPC was incorporated in 1876 to purchase the unfinished Santa Clara Valley Company railroad at Dumbarton Point. Dumbarton Point was then a landing to transfer agricultural produce from the Santa Clara Valley for transport to San Francisco. Railway shops were built in Newark and a 3 ft (914 mm) narrow gauge line to San Jose was completed in 1876. The SPC ferry Newark offered connecting service from Newark to San Francisco in 1877. In 1878 the SPC was extended from San Jose to Los Gatos; and the subsidiary Bay and Coast Railroad completed a line of trestles and fill along the eastern edge of San Francisco Bay from Newark to Alameda. The ferry connection to San Francisco shifted to Alameda as SPC ferrys Bay City and Garden City increased the frequency and reliability of connecting service.[2]

Two years and eight tunnels were required to extend the SPC through the Santa Cruz Mountains from Los Gatos to California's third busiest seaport at Santa Cruz in 1880. SPC leased the San Lorenzo Flume and Transportation Company to acquire their subsidiary Santa Cruz and Felton Railroad as a route through the city to Santa Cruz municipal pier. The big lumber transport flume was replaced by a 7 miles (11 km) logging branch in 1883. In 1886 another branch line was built to the New Almaden mercury mine; and the SPC main line was extended from Alameda to Oakland. Additional horsedrawn branch lines served Centerville (now Fremont) and Agnews State Hospital. Commuter trains fed the San Francisco ferries from east bay communities, two daily trains served Santa Cruz, and four daily locals served the logging branch to Boulder Creek. Excursion trains ran from the ferries to resorts of the south bay and Santa Cruz Mountains. Freight trains carried redwood lumber, mercury, sacked lime, gunpowder from the California Powder Works, and local agricultural produce.[2]

Southern Pacific control[edit]

Postcard photo of the Southern Pacific Big Tree station and locomotive #21, c. 1910s

By 1887 SPC was a major California transportation concern; and Southern Pacific paid six million dollars to merge it into their California transportation system (equivalent to $195 million in 2022). An 1893 winter storm caused a landslide in the Santa Cruz Mountains requiring major reconstruction to restore service. The Alameda ferry terminal burned in 1902 and was replaced with the modern terminal which survived until ferry service was discontinued by the San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge in 1939. The 3 ft (914 mm) gauge line had 23 locomotives, 85 passenger cars and 500 freight cars before the conversion to standard gauge began. The transition to standard gauge was interrupted by the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. The line through the Santa Cruz Mountains suffered major damage including a lateral slip of 5 feet (1.5 m) in the tunnel where it crossed the San Andreas fault. The bridge across San Leandro Bay was damaged and abandoned. Conversion to standard gauge was completed in 1909.[2] 3 ft (914 mm) narrow gauge locomotives numbered 9, 23, and 26 were eventually acquired by the Ilwaco Railway and Navigation Company.[3] Other SPC 3 ft (914 mm) gauge equipment was sold to the Carson and Colorado Railway,[4] the White Pass and Yukon Route, the Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad, the Pacific Coast Railway, the Lake Tahoe Railway and Transportation Company, and the Northwestern Pacific Railroad.[2]

Standard gauge operation[edit]

This is a stopgap mapping solution, while attempts are made to resolve technical difficulties with {{OSM Location map}}
Tunnels of the South Pacific Coast Railraod
Tunnel 1 (Cats Canyon)
Tunnel 2 (Summit), north/east portal (Wrights Station)
Tunnel 2 (Summit), south/west portal (Burns Creek)
Tunnel 3 (Laurel), north portal (Laurel)
Tunnel 3 (Laurel), south portal (Glenwood)
Tunnel 4 (Mountain Charlie)
Tunnel 5 (Zayante)
Tunnel 6 (Rincon)
Tunnel 7 (Hogsback)
Tunnel 8 (Mission Hill)

The track in Alameda could only be used for local service after being isolated by the 1906 earthquake. It was electrified in 1911 and operated as part of the SP's East Bay Electric Lines until 1941. The remaining line from San Jose to San Leandro Bay became part of the Southern Pacific coast division main line.

However, the southern end of the system from San Jose to Santa Cruz was reclassified as a branch line by 1915, useful only to lighter locomotives, as two or three were required to move trains over the grade. Beginning in 1927, it was used by SP's Suntan Special seasonal excursion trains which came down the San Francisco Peninsula every summer Sunday and took passengers right to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.[5] The Boulder Creek branch was dismantled in 1934 after a few years of service by a McKeen railmotor.[2] The tracks through the Santa Cruz Mountains suffered major damage during a storm in February 1940. The last train ran on 26 February 1940 and the line was officially abandoned on 4 June 1940.[6]

The line from San Jose to Los Gatos remained in freight service after the last commuter train ran in 1955.[2] The two southernmost tunnels (#8/Mission Hill and #6/Rincon) continued to be used until 1993, when a fire inside the Rincon Tunnel led to a landslide which collapsed it.[7] The Santa Cruz depot was used for SP's surviving coastal line from Watsonville Junction until the building was sold the 1970s and converted to a restaurant.[6]


North portal of Summit Tunnel, 1895

Eight tunnels were built on the line, of which two survive (#5/Zayante and #8/Mission Hill), although only the Mission Hill tunnel still carries rail traffic. Two were daylighted during or prior to the conversion to standard gauge.

South Pacific Coast Railroad Tunnels[8]: 15 
Number Name Length Notes
Original Regauged
1 N/A Cats Canyon 191 ft (58 m) Approx. 0.3 mi (0.48 km) south of Los Gatos Station, built through a rock outcropping in Cats Canyon. Daylighted as an open cut in 1903 during the conversion of the railroad to standard gauge.[9]
2 1 Summit / Wrights 6,200 ft (1,900 m) Longest. Ran from Wrights Station to Burns Creek near Laurel, crossing underneath Summit Road. Portals sealed in 1942.[10]
3 2 Laurel / Glenwood 5,793 ft (1,766 m) Second longest tunnel. Connected Laurel to Glenwood, crossing underneath the present location of California State Route 17. Portals sealed in 1942.[11]
4 3 Glenwood / Mtn Charlie / Clems 913 ft (278 m) connected Clems, under a ridge, to Mountain Charlie gulch. Portals sealed in 1942.[12]
5 4 Zayante / Storage Vault 250 ft (76 m) One of the shortest tunnels, in Zayante. It is currently being used as a records storage facility by Iron Mountain.[13]
6 5 Coon Gulch / Rincon 338 ft (103 m) In San Lorenzo Gorge; originally built in 1879 to ease a sharp curve around a rock outcropping that had previously damaged trains. Damaged by fire in 1993 and bypassed.[7]
7 N/A Hogsback 282 ft (86 m) Also in San Lorenzo Gorge; it was originally 127 ft (39 m) long when it opened in 1875 and lengthened in 1879, but it collapsed in 1898 and was daylighted.[14]
8 6 Mission Hill 927 ft (283 m) In Santa Cruz itself, carries the route under Mission Santa Cruz. As initially completed, 918 ft (280 m) long.[15]
The portal of the Glenwood Tunnel as viewed from Laurel after the winter storm of 1940 which led to the abandonment of the line

Three of these tunnels were sealed shortly after the line was abandoned: #2/Summit, #3/Glenwood (Laurel), and #4/Mountain Charlie (Clems). Under contract to Southern Pacific, the F.A. Christie railroad salvage firm removed the track and trestles and, when this was completed in April 1942, dynamited these three tunnels. Although a long-persistent rumor holds that destruction of the tunnels was motivated by post-Pearl Harbor fears of a Japanese invasion of the United States West Coast, the decision to dynamite them predated the Pearl Harbor attack and was made solely for business reasons.[16] Tunnel #5/Zayante was also part of the abandoned line, but it was used as a private road after the tracks were abandoned and then as a storage site.[13]

Narrow gauge locomotives[edit]

Number Wheel


Builder Builder

Seril Number

Date Built Disposition by 1909 Notes
1 4-4-0 Baldwin Locomotive Works 3715 1875 Sold before 1894. Originally lettered San Joaquin & Northern #1
2 4-4-0 Baldwin Locomotive Works 3970 1876 Scrapped 1902.
3 4-4-0 Baldwin Locomotive Works 3971 1876 Sold to Colusa & Lake Railroad #4 in 1910. Scrapped after the C&L closed.
4 4-4-0 Baldwin Locomotive Works 4214 1877 Scrapped 1901.
5 4-4-0 Baldwin Locomotive Works 4222 1877 Sold to Lake Tahoe Railway & Transportation Company #5 in 1906. Scrapped 1926.
6 4-4-0 Baldwin Locomotive Works 4223 1877 Moved to the San Bernardino & Redlands Railway in 1906. Moved to the Carson & Colorado #6 in 1917 after electrification of the SB&R. Scrapped 1926.
7 4-4-0 Baldwin Locomotive Works 4224 1877 Renumbered in 1905 to #26.
8 4-4-0 Baldwin Locomotive Works 4225 1877 Scrapped 1898.
9 4-4-0 Baldwin Locomotive Works 4956 1880 Sold in 1908 to Ilwaco Railway & Navigation Company #5. Scrapped 1937.
10 4-4-0 Baldwin Locomotive Works 4960 1880 Sold to Northwestern Pacific #10 Later renumbered NWP#87, scrapped 1917.
11 2-6-0 Baldwin Locomotive Works 5649 1881 Moved to Carson & Colorado #11 Rebuilt in 1924 to a 4-6-0. Scrapped 1934.
12 2-6-0 Baldwin Locomotive Works 5650 1881 Moved to Carson & Colorado #12 Rebuilt in 1924 to a 4-6-0. Scrapped 1934.
13 2-8-0 Baldwin Locomotive Works 6157 1882 Moved to Carson & Colorado #13 sold in 1915 to Lake Tahoe Railway & transportation Company #13. Scrapped 1927.
14 4-4-0 Baldwin Locomotive Works 7249 1884 Sold to Northwestern Pacific #85 Wrecked 1924, rebuilt and renumbered to NWP#93. Scrapped 1935.
15 4-4-0 Baldwin Locomotive Works 7236 1884 Sold to Northwestern Pacific #19 Later renumbered NWP#86, sold to Duncan Mills Land & Lumber Company, scrapped 1926.
16 4-4-0 Baldwin Locomotive Works 7604 1885 Moved to Carson & Colorado #9 Scrapped 1911.
17 4-4-0 Baldwin Locomotive Works 7605 1885 Moved to Carson & Colorado #10 Scrapped 1933.
18 4-6-0 Baldwin Locomotive Works 7939 1886 Moved to Carson & Colorado #14 Retired 1945. Presumed Scrapped.
19 4-6-0 Baldwin Locomotive Works 7941 1886 Moved to Carson & Colorado #16 Scrapped 1935.
20 4-6-0 Baldwin Locomotive Works 8486 1887 Sold to Northwestern Pacific #21 Renumbered #144 then #94. Scrapped 1935.
21 4-6-0 Baldwin Locomotive Works 8487 1887 Moved to Carson & Colorado #17 Retired and dismantled 1945, boiler used until 1952 for heating at the Salem, Oregon engine terminal when Scrapped.
22 4-6-0 Baldwin Locomotive Works 9929 1889 Moved to Carson & Colorado #15 Scrapped 1935.
23 4-6-0 Baldwin Locomotive Works 11925 1891 Sold in 1907 to Ilwaco Railway & Navigation Company #6 Scrapped 1937.
24 2-6-0 New York Locomotive Works 21 1883 Scrapped 1902. Was Portland & Willamette Valley #2, purchased 1897.
25 2-6-0 New York Locomotive Works 22 1883 Sold in 1907 to La Dicha & Pacific #1. Was Portland & Willamette Valley #3, purchased 1897. Sold in 1915 to Nevada County Narrow Gauge #6, scrapped 1921.
26 4-4-0 Baldwin Locomotive Works 4224 1877 Sold in 1907 to Ilwaco Railway & Navigation Company #3 Was #7, renumbered in 1905. Scrapped 1937.

Ferry service[edit]

The first ferry terminal was built on Dumbarton Point in 1876. The Alameda terminal opened on 20 March 1878 for a shorter ferry ride to San Francisco. With two ferries, the company offered hourly trips between Alameda and San Francisco beginning in July 1878. These three side-wheel passenger ferries with vertical beam engines saw service on other routes under Southern Pacific ownership.[17]: 51, 343–344 

Name[17]: 52–53, 343–346  Number Builder Launch Tonnage Length Beam Depth Horsepower Crew
Newark Collyer 18 April 1877 1783 268' 42' 12.8' 1200 30
rebuilt 1903 2197 18.8' 18
130118 rebuilt 1923 2254 18.8' 1400 18
Bay City 3068 Collyer 18 May 1878 1283 230' 36.8' 13.6' 800 13
Garden City 85592 Collyer 20 June 1879 1080 208' 37' 13.6' 625 19


Southern Pacific transferred Newark to their Oakland pier for runs to San Francisco. Newark suffered minor flooding when rammed in fog by the Southern Pacific ferry Oakland on 7 December 1908. Newark was disabled by a mid-bay engine failure on 9 November 1920, and drifted more than an hour before being towed ashore by tugs. Newark was taken into the Southern Pacific shipyard in 1923 and rebuilt into the largest all-passenger ferry on San Francisco Bay.[17]: 95–97, 133, 163, 166 

The rebuilt ferry was named Sacramento when launched in January 1924. She went into service on 9 February 1924 with a speed of 14.5 knots and completely filled the San Francisco Ferry Building slip. She was rated to carry 4,000 passengers, but only had seating for 1,900. After the San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge and Golden Gate Bridge opened in 1936 and 1937, Southern Pacific passenger ferry service was reduced to a single route between San Francisco and the Oakland Pier in 1939. Sacramento became the standby boat when the ferries assigned to that route needed repair. As the other ferries wore out during World War II, Sacramento became one of two boats in active service until suffering a major mechanical failure on 28 November 1954. The ferry was stripped of machinery and towed to Southern California to be a moored fishing platform near Redondo Beach, California where she sank during a storm on 1 December 1964.[17]: 166, 207, 208 

Bay City[edit]

Bay City operating under Southern Pacific ownership.

Bay City stayed on the Alameda route under Southern Pacific ownership, and survived collision with the lumber schooner Tampico on a foggy day in 1906. She lost a rudder and had several lifeboats smashed on 5 April 1911 when misunderstood signals caused collision with the Southern Pacific ferry Berkeley. On 8 July 1912, Bay City lost power when the engine main shaft broke, and drifted in the mid-bay until a tug arrived to tow her ashore. Southern Pacific ferry Melrose collided with Bay City in a dense patch of fog on 26 January 1913. Bay City was repaired after each mishap; and stayed in trans-bay service until dismantled for scrap in 1929.[17]: 94, 132–133, 166 

Garden City[edit]

Garden City was built with a 3 ft (914 mm) narrow gauge track on the main deck to carry freight cars to San Francisco; but she could also carry passengers as a relief ferry when either of the other two ferries needed repairs. Southern Pacific used Garden City as a relief boat for their auto ferry run on the old "creek route". Garden City stayed on the "creek route" as a passenger ferry when auto ferry service was shifted to the Oakland pier.[17]: 53, 133, 162 

Carquinez Bridge from Eckley Pier (2010); the remains of Garden City are in the foreground amongst pilings.

Garden City attempted an eastbound bay crossing during a full gale on Christmas morning, 1921. After steaming into the wind for 90 minutes on what was normally an 18-minute trip, the ferry found its destination slip was occupied by the ferry Edward T. Jeffery seeking shelter from the storm. The other ferry vacated the slip, but Garden City was unable to maneuver in the wind, and started drifting when its rudder broke while attempting to return to San Francisco. A rescue tug arrived and took the ferry in tow, but the tow line parted, and the ferry drifted into the Key system pier. The pier was seriously damaged and the ferry passengers were drenched by waves breaking 20 feet high as they crawled to safety. Southern Pacific retired Garden City the following year; but traffic remained so heavy through the 1920s that the boat was repeatedly pulled out of retirement for temporary service when other boats needed repair. After her last run in 1929, the old ferry was moored as a fishing resort in Eckley, California. Eckley is gone, the site now being part of Carquinez Strait Regional Shoreline Park, and the remains of the Garden City are easily visible from the park's Eckley fishing pier.[17]: 162–166 

Surviving infrastructure[edit]

Laurel/Glenwood tunnel portal as it appears today.
  • Agnew Depot was used by the Southern Pacific and was purchased by the California Central Model Railroad Club in 1963.
  • San Jose Diridon station is located on the site of the former South Pacific Coast San Jose station.
Right of Way

See also[edit]


  1. ^ White, John H. Jr. (1975). "A Trip on the South Pacific Coast in 1882". Railroad History. The Railway & Locomotive Historical Society. 132 (Spring 1975): 87&92. JSTOR 43520522.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Vail, Jim. "South Pacific Coast". Railroad Model Craftsman. Carstens Publications (March 1994): 73–80.
  3. ^ Robertson, Donald B., Encyclopedia of Western Railroad History, Vol. III, at page 222, Caxton Printers, Caldwell, ID ISBN 0-87004-366-8
  4. ^ Turner 1974 p.46
  5. ^ "SP and the Suntan Special" (PDF). History of Rail Transportation in Santa Cruz County. Retrieved 18 August 2019.
  6. ^ a b Porter, Jon (1990). "Santa Cruz". CTC Board. Hyrail Productions (166): 26–31.
  7. ^ a b Whaley, Derek (November 15, 2019). "Tunnels: Coon Gulch (Tunnel 6)". Santa Cruz Trains. Retrieved 31 August 2022.
  8. ^ De Leuw, Cather & Company (December 1994). Santa Cruz-Los Gatos Rail Corridor Feasibility Study (PDF) (Report). The Joint Policy Board. Retrieved 31 August 2022.
  9. ^ Whaley, Derek (September 8, 2017). "Tunnels: Cats Canyon (Tunnel 1)". Santa Cruz Trains. Retrieved 31 August 2022.
  10. ^ Whaley, Derek (December 22, 2017). "Tunnels: Summit (Tunnel 2)". Santa Cruz Trains. Retrieved 31 August 2022.
  11. ^ Whaley, Derek (March 9, 2018). "Tunnels: Glenwood (Tunnel 3)". Santa Cruz Trains. Retrieved 31 August 2022.
  12. ^ Whaley, Derek (April 13, 2018). "Tunnels: Mountain Charlie (Tunnel 4)". Santa Cruz Trains. Retrieved 31 August 2022.
  13. ^ a b Whaley, Derek (June 8, 2018). "Tunnels: Zayante (Tunnel 5)". Santa Cruz Trains. Retrieved 31 August 2022.
  14. ^ Whaley, Derek (December 13, 2019). "Tunnels: Hogsback (Tunnel 7)". Santa Cruz Trains. Retrieved 31 August 2022.
  15. ^ Whaley, Derek (March 20, 2020). "Tunnels: Mission Hill (Tunnel 8)". Santa Cruz Trains. Retrieved 31 August 2022.
  16. ^ "Circuit Rider". Santa Cruz Sentinel. April 19, 1942. The first two tunnels by which our erstwhile Los Gatos railroad line bored through the hills are gone. [...] The wrenching given the sand rock by the earthquake of 1906 (after which the tunnels were enlarged for a broad guage [sic] line) turned the sand rock nearly to sand.
  17. ^ a b c d e f g Ford, Robert S. (1977). Red Trains in the East Bay. Interurbans Publications. ISBN 0-916374-27-0.


  • Shaw, Frederick; Fisher Jr., Clement; Harlan, George H. (1949). Oil lamps and iron ponies: A chronicle of the narrow gauges. Bay Books. LCCN 49-10282.
  • MacGregor, Bruce A. (1968). South Pacific Coast. Howell-North Books. LCCN 68-58114.
  • Turner, George (1974). Slim Rails through the Sand (3rd edition). Trans-Anglo Books. ISBN 0-87046-016-1.
  • MacGregor, Bruce A. (1975). Narrow Gauge Portrait: South Pacific Coast. Glenwood Publishers. ISBN 0-911760-23-7. LCCN 75-11102.
  • Ford, Robert S. (1977). Red Trains in the East Bay. Interurbans Publications. ISBN 0-916374-27-0.
  • MacGregor, Bruce A. & Truesdale, Richard (1982). South Pacific Coast: A Centennial. Pruett Publishing Co. ISBN 0-87108-545-3.

External links[edit]