Western Pacific Railroad (1862–1870)

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The Western Pacific Railroad (1862-1870) was formed in 1862 to build a railroad from Sacramento, California, to the San Francisco Bay, the westernmost portion of the First Transcontinental Railroad. After the completion of the railroad from Sacramento to the Oakland Pier, the western terminus of the transcontinental rail, the Western Pacific Railroad was absorbed in 1870 into the Central Pacific Railroad.

Western Pacific Railroad
LocaleWestern Pacific Railroad
Dates of operation1864–1870; 149 years ago (1870)
PredecessorCentral Pacific Railroad


The Western Pacific Railroad (1862-1870) was formed in December 1862 by a group led by Timothy Dame and including Charles McLaughlin and Peter Donahue, all associated with the San Francisco and San Jose Railroad (SF&SJ), to build a railroad from San Jose north to Niles (then called Vallejo Mills), east through Niles Canyon (then called Alameda Canyon), north to Pleasanton, east through the Livermore Valley, and over Altamont Pass to Stockton, then north to Sacramento,[1] with the plan that the transcontinental railroad would follow the Western Pacific to San Jose and then the SF&SJ to San Francisco. In October, 1864, the Central Pacific Railroad assigned all the rights of the Pacific Railway Acts of 1862 and 1864 to the Western Pacific for the route between Sacramento and San Jose, including land grants.[1]

San Francisco Pacific Railroad Bond (WPRR), 1865

By 1866 the Western Pacific Railroad had laid 20 miles of tracks from San Jose northwest to Niles (then Vallejo Mills) and had laid out the rest of the line through Niles Canyon (then Alameda Canyon), through Livermore Valley, over Altamont Pass, and on to Stockton and Sacramento, before running out of money and halting all construction. Part of the difficulty was that federal land grants were not available where Mexican land grants had previously been made.

By 1867 Central Pacific had decided that the route via San Jose to San Francisco was too long and that it would be better to change to a route using ferryboats from the planned CPRR's Oakland Pier in Oakland.[2][3] To reach Oakland a CPRR subsidiary bought the Western Pacific, owned at that time by Charles McLaughlin and William Carr.[1] Construction started again in the spring of 1867 and included a line from Niles toward Oakland.[4] The CPRR briefly considered a shorter route west from Dublin/Pleasanton to the Hayward/San Leandro area (a route later built by Bay Area Rapid Transit), but decided that the grades were too much of a disadvantage compared to the Niles Canyon route.[4]

1885 map of Oakland and the CPRR's Long Wharf

Since Central Pacific had decided to make Oakland the western terminus of the First Transcontinental Railroad, it purchased in 1868 the San Francisco and Oakland Railroad (SF&O), which provided ferry-train service from a San Francisco ferry terminal connecting with railroad service through Oakland. In early 1869 Central Pacific also purchased the San Francisco and Alameda Railroad (SF&A), which connected Alameda Terminal to Hayward, California and was bankrupted by the 1868 Hayward earthquake. By mid 1869 the railroad from Niles to San Leandro was completed, as well as a temporary connection at bay side of San Leandro to the old tracks of SF&A which led to the functioning Alameda Pier. The first transcontinental train to reach San Francisco Bay arrived not at the CPRR's Oakland Pier but at the SF&A RR's Alameda Terminal on September 6, 1869[5][6] and the passengers took the SF&A RR ferryboat Alameda to San Francisco.[3][7] Two months later, the rail connection to the San Francisco and Oakland Railroad was finally in place, and the transcontinental trains ran through Oakland to CPRR's Oakland Pier.[3] On the morning of November 8, 1869, the first transcontinental train to use the expanded ferry terminal at Oakland Point traversed the SF&O and the Western Pacific Railroad to get to Sacramento and continue east on the Central Pacific Railroad. The city of Oakland held a large celebration later in the day to greet the first westbound transcontinental train.[8] After November 1869, the Oakland Pier was the western terminus of the transcontinental trains. Alameda then went back to local train service.

The Western Pacific operated a total of ten locomotives. The first five were built in 1864 by the Norris Locomotive Works plant at Lancaster, Pennsylvania. One of these was a 12-ton 4-2-0 while the others were of the more conventional 4-4-0 type weighing from 30 to 33 tons. Baldwin Locomotive Works of Philadelphia built three more 30-ton 4-4-0 locomotives in 1866, and two similar locomotives were built by Mason Machine Works of Massachusetts in 1867.[9]

In 1870 the Western Pacific Railroad was absorbed into the Central Pacific Railroad.[10]

In 1879, the CPRR shortened its route from Sacramento to the Oakland Pier further by putting together a line from Sacramento to Benicia, crossing by large train ferries, Solano and Contra Costa, to Port Costa, and then along the south shore of Carquinez Strait and San Pablo Bay to Richmond, Berkeley, and Oakland to the Oakland Pier.[11] From 1879 on, the Altamont Pass and Niles Canyon route was a secondary route between the East Bay and the San Joaquin Valley. In 1930 the large train ferry service was discontinued and the train traffic into the Bay Area came across a steel bridge from Benicia to Martinez. This bridge continues in operation today.

In 1979, the Southern Pacific Railroad obtained trackage rights over the Western Pacific Railroad, and then abandoned its own track over Altamont Pass to Niles except for the track through Niles Canyon which was obtained by the Niles Canyon Railway, a museum railroad. Other sections of the original Western Pacific route, to Stockton and Sacramento, to Oakland, and to San Jose remain as part of the Southern Pacific Railroad.

Another Western Pacific Railroad[edit]

In 1903 a new Western Pacific Railroad was formed to build a line between Oakland and Salt Lake City, including a branch to San Jose. Its routes between Sacramento, Oakland, and San Jose closely paralleled the tracks of the original Western Pacific Railroad, then belonging to the Southern Pacific Railroad.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Pacific Railway Commission
  2. ^ Daggett, Ch. V
  3. ^ a b c Ford
  4. ^ a b Root
  5. ^ "The first through train on the Western Pacific Road". cdnc.ucr.edu. Daily Alta California 7 September 1869 — California Digital Newspaper Collection. Retrieved 2018-06-20.
  6. ^ "Alameda Terminal of the First Transcontinental Railroad". Office of Historic Preservation, California State Parks. Retrieved 2012-10-05.
  7. ^ Due
  8. ^ "Railroad celebration at Oakland". California digital newspaper collection. Daily Alta California, Volume 21, Number 7172, 9 November 1869. Retrieved 10 May 2019. New York and Oakland are bound together by ties strapped with iron.
  9. ^ Best, Gerald M. (1954). "Western Pacific RR". The Western Railroader. Francis A. Guido. 17 (173): 8.
  10. ^ Daggett
  11. ^ Daggett, Ch. VIII.

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