Rail Town Tracy San Joaquin Valley Railroad History Museum


Celebrating The History Of Railroading
In California's San Joaquin Valley

A Railfan Trip To Tracy, January 1958
Photograph courtesy of Frank Maffei

For more than one-hundred years, Tracy, California, served as one of the major centers of rail transportation in the western United States. Beginning in the 1860s, transcontinental passenger and freight trains heading to and from the San Francisco Bay Area passed through the busy Tracy railyard.

According to Southern Pacific records, Tracy's freight yard set records for traffic handled through its connections with Oakland, San Jose and San Francisco (via Niles Canyon), Martinez (via the Mococo Line that parallels the Byron Highway), Los Banos (via the Westside Branch) and Stockton, Fresno and Sacramento (via the Lathrop branch), and on to Los Angeles, Portland, Ogden and points east.

Into the 1970s, passenger trains — including the San Joaquin Daylight and the overnight Owl — made daily stops at the busy Tracy depot. Sugar beets, tomatoes, asparagus, dry beans and other produce were loaded on trains in Tracy, and the city once boasted one of the largest petroleum storage facilities on the West Coast, which also served as a fueling station for oil-fired steam locomotives.


Union Pacific Train Town USA - Tracy, CaliforniaThe designation and development of the "Bowtie" area (in the vacant former railyards near the new Tracy Transit Station at Sixth and Central) as the Downtown Tracy Railroad Historical District, along with the creation of the San Joaquin Valley Railroad Museum, affords the opportunity to attract countless railroad enthusiasts of all ages to the city for a variety of activities throughout the year, and would serve as a vital cog in the revitalization of the downtown area.

In 2014, through the combined efforts of the City of Tracy, the Tracy City Center Association (TCCA), the Tracy Chamber of Commerce, the Tracy Historical Museum and the Railtown Tracy Project team, the city received its official designation as Train Town USA from the Union Pacific Railroad, as part of the company's program to recognize points along its routes that contributed to its growth and development over the past 150 years.

Special thanks to Frank Maffei for his generous permission to publish his classic photograph of the January 1958 railfan trip to Tracy.


Items For Consideration:

Creating and growing an active and passionate local railroad historical society interested in developing a railroad-themed historical district with vintage locomotives, passenger cars and freight cars, as well as related facilities for maintenance and administration.

A downtown museum and visitor center with exhibits tracing the history of railroading in Tracy and the Central Valley. A scale model railroad display mirroring rail activity in the area, along with railroad-related activities for kids of all ages, will also be a component of the visitor center.

RailServe.com: Railroad Travel, Hobby & Industry

Weekend rail excursions from downtown Tracy on the former Southern Pacific right-of-way to Midway (via the Altamont branch) or the "Brewery" and "Holly Sugar" spurs in town — and perhaps along the  Mococo line (to Brentwood), the Westside branch (via the California Northern to Los Banos) or the Banta-Lathrop line (via the Union Pacific) — using borrowed or leased power (perhaps from the California Northern, the California State Railroad Museum or other tourist railroads). Click here for a map of potential excursion routes.

An annual downtown Tracy Trainfest, attracting train enthusiasts from throughout the western United States, with vintage railroad equipment on display.

An annual railroad movie festival at the Grand Theatre Center For The Arts, along with a railroad-themed art and photography competition.

The potential of attracting railroad-themed businesses to the downtown area, including hobby shops, restaurants, antique stores, and other related enterprises. In addition, the boost in traffic through the Railroad Historical District, particularly on weekends, will increase the number of potential customers for existing restaurants, cafes, stores and shops.

The restoration of "Tracy's Locomotive," the venerable #1293 Southern Pacific S-14 Class 0-6-0 switch engine now on display at Dr. Powers Park near Tracy Boulevard, for use as the signature motive power of the tourist railroad or the focal point of a museum display.

Organizing and launching a San Joaquin Valley Model Engineers club to design, construct and operate a model railroad layout based upon the Southern Pacific's Tracy facility in the mid-1950s. The layout would serve as a starting point for other Railtown Tracy projects, and would be an important local historical resource.

Rebuild the historic Altamont line through Ellis, Midway, Cayley and into the old town of Altamont, if possible. (The line, which basically parallels Schulte Road, currently ends alongside Patterson Pass Road at the Alameda-San Joaquin County line, about eight miles from downtown Tracy.) This line follows the original path of the transcontinental railroad from points east into the Bay Area, and dates back to the 1860s.

The development of youth programs to allow local students learn more about the history of Tracy and the San Joaquin Valley, and how railroads spurred growth here and throughout the west. Also, merit badge programs in railroading and model railroading may be offered for Boy Scouts.

 Rail Town Tracy - Tracy Railtown Historical District



Altamont and San Joaquin Valley Railroad Historical Society