The Sacramento Northern in its heyday of the 1930’s was the longest electric interurban railroad in the US at 185 miles of mainline from Oakland to Chico, not counting branch lines to Vacaville and Central Valley towns of Vacaville, Woodland, Colusa, and Oroville. Built to steam railroad standards, it had everything: streetcar routes, beautiful varnished, and later steel, interurban cars powered by 3rd rail, trolley pole and pantograph collection, a car ferry, dining service and a thriving freight business that outlasted passenger service into the 1980’s.
Route Map


North End
The SN had its origin in Chico as the city streetcar lines of the Chico Electric Railway. The Northern Electric Railway launched in 1905, absorbing the Chico Electric and laid track south to the county seat of Oroville, and then extending onto Sacramento, a total of 93 miles of mainline. The NE was recognized by its stylish arched window orange Niles wood passenger cars and the economical and low maintenance 3rd rail between towns. The NERy became part of the merged Sacramento Northern Railroad in 1918.
South End
In the San Francisco East Bay Area, anther interurban came to be in the same era when all communities were building electric railroads. Originally launched as the Oakland and Antioch Railway, then the Oakland, Antioch and Eastern Railway and ultimately the San Francisco-Sacramento Railroad up until the 1918 merger with the Northern Electric where it became the Sacramento Northern's Southern Division or "South End". The OA&E was recognized by its heavyweight steel cars and all overhead pantograph power collection. It also featured a tunnel and a car ferry.
Post Merger Operations
The Western Pacific bought the merged railroad in 1922 initially retaining the name Sacramento Northern Railroad. On November 4, 1925, the WP reorganized the railroad again, renaming it back to the original Sacramento Northern Railway, as part of their collection of interurban railroad holdings obtained to provide freight feeders from established lineside businesses. This latecomer to the Sacramento Valley, the Western Pacific received income by accepting or delivering freight with the Sacramento Northern derived from transfer and mileage fees paid from one railroad to another. The Western Pacific also owned other connecting regional electric railroads Tidewater Southern (Stockton to Modesto) and Central California Traction (Stockton to Sacramento). The WP established interchange points with the Southern Pacific and Santa Fe that resulted in the greatest continuous SN mileage traveled from the pickup and drop-off points, notably at Chico, Oroville, Marysville, Sacramento, Pittsburg and Oakland.
The Sacramento Northern physically reached downtown San Francisco Trans-Bay Terminal via the new San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge built in 1939. Prior to that, trains used Key System trackage to terminate at the Oakland Mole (Ferry Slip) for the ride onto San Francisco.
Passenger Service ended in 1941 owing to high operational costs, aging equipment and decreasing revenue and traffic brought on by increasingly better roads and more dependable automobile transportation. City streetcar service continued in Chico through the war and eventually ended in 1947.
The collapse of the Lisbon trestle in 1951 and the condemnation of the ferry Ramon in 1954 chopped the South End in segments and ended the continuous mainline. The North End lasted longer, with the Thermalito Afterbay, part of the Oroville dam, severing the line north of Biggs and south Tres Vias (Oroville Junction) in 1967. Branches were steadily pruned back as freight traffic diminished, or in the case of Oroville branch, isolated when the bridge was washed out by floods (1937).
The first diesel freight locomotive, a 44 ton GE unit, arrived in 1944 and de-electrification began, ending in 1965 when the Yuba City wire was turned off.
The Sacramento Northern name ceased to exist with the WP's acquisition by the Union Pacific in 1983.
On this site we will cover many aspects of the Sacramento Northern. Check out the sections in the menu. We will trace the trackage and features overlaying todays world using Google Earth, there will be a section on modeling the Sacramento Northern as I build my 24 x50 layout in a few years (retirement is on the horizon!), a section to upload your images of the SN and a Library section to collect and share files and documents related to the SN.
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