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Caltrain marks 160 years of passenger-rail service

Caltrain is the oldest continually operating rail system west of the Mississippi.
Photo – Caltrain Photo Archive


Caltrain officials this week marked the 160th anniversary of passenger-rail service operating between San Francisco and San Jose, California.

The creation of the rail corridor — which has been in constant use for the past 16 decades — was central to the development of the San Francisco Peninsula and South Bay, Caltrain officials said in a news release.

Most cities located along the corridor built their downtowns around the railroad, allowing communities to form and grow together, Caltrain officials said. Accessible transportation led to economic prosperity and development, as trains could move far more people and goods than stagecoaches traveling on dirt roads. Depending on the weather, traveling via stagecoach would take from eight hours to up to three days to reach a destination, they said.

The idea of creating a rail line between the two cities first came about in 1851, when San Jose was still the California's capital city. After three failed attempts to obtain funding, the San Francisco and San Jose Railroad incorporated in 1860.

Construction began in May 1861 at San Francisquito Creek and regular service from San Francisco to Mayfield (now the California Avenue Station) began in October 1863, with San Jose-bound passengers transferring to a stagecoach for the remainder of their journey. The line was completed in 1864.

There has been much talk of history as Caltrain's historic electrification project — the first undertaking in North America in a generation in which diesel trains and their infrastructure components are transitioned to an electrified system — approaches completion later this year, Caltrain officials said.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 1/19/2024