THE UKIAH DAILY JOURNAL Tuesday, March 22 1988
Railroad ready to roll SUNOL, Calif. (AP)—Acollec- tion of locomotives are reving up on the riverside rails in bucolic Niles Canyon, which served as a backdrop backdrop for silent Westerns of the '20s • and was the final link in the tran- . scontinental railroad. Every weekend for months, Pacific Locomotive Association (PLA) members have been trekking to the scenic site about 20 miles southeast of San Francisco to lay new track and set up for the official April 16 opening of the Niles "ailroad. Canyon Rai To start, three or four pieces of equipment will chug along a course of about two miles each Sunday. Plans are to expand to at least 7 miles and possibly the entire 9.3-mile, one-way strip through the canyon. Trips will be leisurely, with a 9.3-mile round-trip lasting about an hour as the train clanks along at a top speed of no more than 25 mph. Association spokesman Mike McQuaid says the new railroad is one of about 100 such short lines in the United States and Canada. He compared it to the "Skunk Railroad," complete with passenger cars from the 20s and 30s, that runs through lush redwood groves between Fort Bragg and Willits, about ISO miles north of San Francisco, Francisco, and the "Big Trees and Roaring Roaring Camp" steam train in the coastal mountains near Felton, about SO miles south of San Francisco. Transporting train buffs on the Niles Canyon Railroad will be a 1924 steam engine, World War Hera Hera diesel locomotives, engines used to haul logs in Clover Valley and Tuolumne County and even a 1950s Vista Dome car. "There's something very special about these old trains," said McQuaid. "They serve as a link to our past and I think they should be preserved so people can remember our heritage and, at the same time, gain a better appreciation of modern technology." Frank Presley of Newark is the association's general manager. He said the 500-plus members are history history buffs, train lovers and many train engineers. "We have laborers, lawyers, teachers, accountants. We have several several people who are railroad employees," he said on a recent Saturday while he and about 15 other volunteers hammered away at the rails. "Most of us are not only train nuts, we're interested in old cars, trucks, machinery." There's a strong romanticism attached to trains of days gone by, Presley said. "A lot of it is that for its time, the locomotive engineer was the airline pilot or the (jet) I fighter pilot of his day," he said. The Pacific Locomotive Association, Association, a nonprofit corporation,! wants to offer the public a trainl museum of sorts, in addition to a train ride through the canyon, Presley Presley said: "We want to show people what railroading is all about." After operating the just over one- mile-long Castro Point Railway near Richmond for about 17 years,, the PLA was forced to move when, the Navy expanded a nearby fuel dock last year. The association negotiated with Alameda County to secure a 15-year lease of the right-of-way that winds from Vallejo Mill Historic Historic Park in Fremont, through Niles Canyon to the edge of Sunol. Southern Pacific Railroad pulled out its Niles Canyon track about the same time, but left railroad ties, said Presley. He said the area has been designated a public transportation corridor and he predicted the train club also will be exiled in 20 years or so to make room for a light rail system. When the Niles railroad fires up in April, it will mark the first commercial commercial train operation in about 15 years on the property Alameda County assistant real estate chief John Fenstermacher said was part of the 1862 grant to the "Big Four." Charles Crocker, Mark Hopkins, Leland Stanford and Collis P. Huntington Huntington owned Central Pacific Railroad, Railroad, which later became Southern Pacific. While the project has support from train buffs and some local residents, residents, others have expressed fears of train-crazed tourists streaming into the quiet canyon, pollution from smelly diesel fuel used by some of the engines and fire hazards. "Sunol is a quiet bedroom community community and we want it to stay that way," said Virginia McCullough, criticizing what she called "big boys with big toys." "That's a little harsh," responded Presley. "But I guess it's true."