Golden Gate rails today
Caltrain commuter equipment is lined up at the San Francisco terminal, at 4th and Townsend, ready to move the city’s rail commuters on Oct. 14, 2009. Scott A. Hartley

San Francisco, California

The San Francisco Bay Area is marking the 150th anniversary of rail service on the peninsula in 2014. Southern Pacific predecessor San Francisco & San Jose completed the line to San Jose in January 1864. SP steam and Fairbanks-Morse diesels are long gone, but commuter operator Caltrain still runs its service with a varied fleet of locomotives and cars.

Bay Area Rapid Transit operates heavy rail transit, mostly underground on the peninsula, while the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, known as Muni, operates the city’s light rail lines, designated with letters. Muni and the nonprofit Market Street Railway operate many historic streetcars.

Freight operations, such as SP’s Mission Bay Yard, as well as the San Francisco Belt, Santa Fe, and Western Pacific have largely disappeared. One that remains is Union Pacific’s “dirty dirt” train at Pier 96 [see “Dodging Bullets and Other Assorted Tales,” July 2007].
icon_railroad_45TRAIN WATCHING
People will tell you that San Francisco used to be a great place to watch trains, but that it no longer is. Don’t believe it. Train-watching today is as easy as reading a printed schedule or using an online transit tracker. BART, Caltrain, and Muni all operate scheduled service over their respective rail lines.

Chasing down the city’s relics can be just as much fun as chasing its trains. The San Francisco Belt Railroad’s roundhouse still stands at the intersection of Sansome and Lombard on The Embarcadero, the road that skirts the eastern edge of the city, converted to office space. The former Southern Pacific headquarters building is on Market Street.

A little more digging will yield other artifacts of railroading past, like short, disconnected stretches of track still embedded in streets and the occasional crossbuck left in commercial areas. Visitors should keep this in mind as they travel the city streets.
tracksideicon_frequencyRADIO FREQUENCIES
Caltrain, 160.815; Muni rail, 484.6625.
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