Trains have played a significant role in California's transportation system since 1855, when the Sacramento and Folsom. Soon thereafter, rival rail lines extended up and down the Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley and into the Sierra foothills, making the critical connection between miners, farmers, and factories.
Today, the exciting Capitol route trains and Thruway motorcoaches connect five of California's historic capitals: Monterey, San Jose, Benicia (via Martinez), Vallejo, and Sacramento. This busy corridor is still one of the most important transportation routes in the State. In 1991, Amtrak and Caltrans teamed up to reintroduce modern passenger rail service between Sacramento and San Jose.
This guide highlights some of the major attractions and points of interest along the route. It is written from east to west from Colfax to Oakland, and north to south from Oakland to San Jose. If you are traveling in the opposite direction, remember to look to the left if we have indicated right, and to the right if we have indicated left!
Named after Schuyler Colfax, who served as vice president under President Ulysses S.Grant, this city remains a nostalgic reminder of California's rustic Gold Rush past. Today a small museum is operated in a "little red caboose" downtown. Travelers may shop at stores on Main Street operating out of hundred-year-old buildings as well as the old Fruit Exchange buildings on Railroad Street. Nearby, the famous Donner Trail follows Bear River toward the valley below.
Gold was discovered near Auburn in Claude Chana on May 16, 1848, and it soon became an important mining town, trading post and stage terminal. Auburn has served as Placer County seat since 1851. There are many historic sites in Old Auburn, including the Red Firehouse (circa 1891), the first permanent post office which is still in use, Union Bar, the County Courthouse, and a 45 ton statue of Chana.
The Central Pacific Railroad reached Rocklin in 1864 and the town's population boomed. It was the site of the railroad's first roundhouse and the point where Sierra bound trains were divided into two segments in order to make the tough grade over the summit. It also was the shipping point for cattle, sheep and agricultural products. Rocklin got its name from the area's extensive granite quarries.
Roseville is truly a railroad town. Originally called "Junction" because it was established at the juncton of the Central Pacific, Southern Pacific and California Central Railroads, it is still the fourth largest freight yard west of the Mississippi River.
If you are traveling with us between June and October, You'll notice the golden brown grasses on the hillside. This is often referred to as the true gold of "Golden" California.
Situated on the Sacramento River, the city has long been a hub of California's transportation network. Originally, stagecoaches met incoming steamboat passengers and took them up to the mountains and mines.
The Sacramento Amtrak Station was completed February 27, 1925 (Steve's note: This doesn't mean that Amtrak existed in 1925! Amtrak could have worded that better by referring to the station as "what is now the Sacramento Amtrak Station".). On the east wall of the waiting room is a famous mural of Governor Leland Stanford breaking ground for the Central Pacific Railroad in 1865.
Sacramento is your connection point for Amtrak Thruway motorcoaches to Reno, Nevada City, Lake Tahoe and Redding.
Within walking distance of the Sacramento Amtrak Station, the Capitols pass behind the State Railroad Museum and Old Sacramento State Historic Park. A faithful reconstruction of the original Central Pacific Passenger Station is located here also.
Between the Sacramento River and the town of Davis, the train travels on narrow levees and trestles across what is know as the Yolo Bypass. Built in the 1920's, the bypass is formed by three gate-like structures along the Sacramento River. The southernmost gate floods the Yolo Basin, an area 43 miles long and three miles wide. In the summer the basin is spread with row crops or grazing cattle. In winter, the train appears to be passing over a large inland lake.
The Davis train station, built in 1913 in the famous Mission Revival style, is an historical landmark. Nicknamed "The Bicycle Capital of the World", this university city has 57 miles of bikepaths for its estimated 45,000 bicycles.
The University of California, Davis, visible to the right on the west end of town, was established in the early 1900's. Its specialties are agriculture and veterinary and human medicine.
The well-tended agricultural fields seen west of town on both sides of the tracks are part of the University's agricultural sciences complex.
Suisun is an Indian word meaning "west winds", appropriate for the gusty area of the Sacramento Valley.
The Suisun/Fairfield station was renovated to reflect its turn of the century appearance. Located just a few short blocks south of the station on Main Street is Suisun's waterfront, with a municipal dock, fishing and other facilities. For the collector, numerous antique shops can be found in the same area.
Fairfield, north of the station, is the seat of Solano County government. Farmers in this area work not only to make their crops profitable, but also to make their fields attractive to wildlife. Ducks, pheasants, kildeer, meadow larks, doves, and egrets inhabit these areas and may be seen from the train. Tracks of deer, bobcat, and even a solitary black bear have been recorded along Putah Creek west of Davis.
A common bird of prey of agricultural lands is the American kestrel or sparrow hawk. Look for their pointed blue-grey wings, reddish tail, and two black bars on the white face.
The Suisun Marsh is the largest remaining estuarine wetland area in the continental U.S. It consists of 50,000 acres of diked, managed wetlands; 5,500 acres of tidal marshes; and 30,000 acres of bays and sloughs. The Marsh is particularly rich in salinity, nutrients and wildlife.
The Marsh provides habitat for the endangered salt marsh harvest mouse, as well as populations of river otters and tule elk. During the winter months, the marsh supports as many as 250,000 birds. From the train you are likely to see Canadian and tule geese, white pelicans, northern harriers, and great blue herons.
The Mothball Fleet
Prominent in Suisun Bay, adjacent to the marsh, is the "Mothball fleet," retired World War II vintage US Navy ships. The ships are stored here because of the low salinity of the water which prevents the accumulation of barnacles on the ship hulls.
Martinez Benicia Bridge
At 5,603 feet long, the Martinez-Benicia Bridge is the longest and heaviest double track railroad bridge west of the Mississippi. It stands 70 feet above the water on 10 main and 22 pedestal piers. The bridge contains 22,000 tons of steel, 105,000 cubic yards of concrete, and requires 20,000 gallons of paint for three coats.
Martinez was the residence of famed naturalist John Muir from 1890 to 1914. Many of his writings were penned in the "scribble den" of his house which is open daily to visitors and is easily reached by local transit. The town of Martinez boasts many antique stores within blocks of the Amtrak Station.
Martinez is your connection point for Amtrak Thruway motorcoaches to such popular destinations as Marine World Africa USA, the Napa Valley Wine Train and Sonoma County.
The town of Port Costa can be glimpsed on thee left just before reaching the Carquinez Bridge. Port Costa was once a terminal for immense ferry boats which held up to 48 railroad cars and one locomotive per voyage!
The Carquinez Bridge
These two bridges are among the longest of their type in the world. The Bridge's original cantilever span was built in 1927-1928; the second span was added in the 1950's.
Between the Carquinez Bridge and Richmond the train passes through Tunnel Number 1, which is 604 feet long.
Richmond is your connecting point to the Bay Area Rapid Transit system (BART), which serves San Francisco and the East Bay area.
Richmond's deep water port and rail connections provide excellent shipping terminals for oil refineries and coal exporting.
The old Berkely station building is a restaurant, while the new stop is a passenger shelter under the freeway. You can leave the train here, walk a few steps and board transit buses to the UC Berkeley campus and downtown areas. The Berkeley Marina and recreation pier are within walking distance of the station, as is the Fourth Street Shopping District, a group of factory outlets which promises a unique experience!
South of Berkeley, to the right of the train, is Aquatic Park, a lake between that tracks and Interstate 80. It is both a waterfowl refuge and a recreation area.
The University of California Berkeley (UCB) campus was established in 1873 with an enrollment of 191 students. UCB grew with the rapidly expanding population of California and responded to the state's educational needs. Today, enrollment is 21,738 undergraduates, and the University maintains the progress, free exchange of views and rich diversity that have defined Berkeley.
Passengers traveling to San Francisco can leave the train at the Emeryville Station to cross the Bay Bridge on connecting motorcoaches. Once the largest meat-packing center on the West Coast, today Emeryville boasts of its retail and biotech businesses. Take the pedestrian walkway over the tracks to the Public Market, or walk a few blocks to the Powell Street Plaza.
Between Emeryville and Oakland, the trains pass through the West Oakland storage yard where Amtrak trains are serviced and supplied.
Amtrak motorcoach connections from Emeryville Station make four stops in San Francisco: The Ferry Building, where a full service ticket office is available; Pier 39 near Fisherman's Wharf; San Francisco Shopping Center on the Market Street across from Powell Street cable cars; and Hyatt Regency Hotel at Drumm and California Streets within walking distance of most Financial District offices.
Port Of Oakland
The Port of Oakland, one of the largest containerized freight shipping ports on the West Coast, is visible on the right side of the train.
Oakland is California's sixth largest city. Hundreds of years ago "Oak-Land" was composed of rolling hills dotted with oak trees. The Spaniards used to call it Encinal or oak grove.
Oakland's Jack London Square Amtrak Station opened in 1995. The station honors the vice president and founder of the Sleeping Car Porter's Union, C.L. Dellums.
Jack London Square
Popular Jack London Square is located across the tracks from the Oakland Amtrak Station. The square is named after author Jack London and houses many interesting shops, restaurants, Hotels, plus a Jack London Museum.
The Jack London Square area offers easy access to ferry and bus systems. The Oakland Museum, with fascinating exhibits on the art, natural history and history of California, can be reached from the station via AC Transit.
The Oakland/Alameda County Coliseum
The Oakland/Alameda County Coliseum, home of the Oakland Raiders and the Golden State Warriors, is visible to the right as the train leaves Oakland. (Steve's note: The Golden State Warriors, a basketball team, do not play at the Oakland/Alameda County Coliseum, a football/baseball stadium. The Warriors actually play at the San Jose Arena, mentioned later in this route guide.)
Hayward has a rich academic and cultural life, with both California State University and Chabot Community College located in the city. Capitol service to Hayward began in 1997.
The community of Niles, part of the city of Fremont, is marked by the word "Niles" on the hillside to the left above the train. The Niles Depot, built in 1904, is now a local railroad museum featuring a large model railroad layout. It is open the first weekend of each month.
The Canyon was a popular filming location for westerns in the early days of movies. The best known film made in the canyon was The Tramp starring Charlie Chaplin.
Alameda Creek Quarries Regional Recreation Area
The entrance to Fremont is marked by the green hills of Alameda Creek Quarries Regional Recreation Area. This twelve mile linear park follows Aalameda Creek from Niles Canyon to the San Francisco Bay. It is popular with hikers, joggers, bicyclists and horseback riders.
Fremont was formed when the five districts of Mission San Jose, Centerville, Niles, Irvington and Warm Springs merged in 1956. The Amtrak Station is located in the Centerville District. The town is named after John C. Fremont, western explorer of the 1840s and first Republican Presidential candidate in 1856 (he lost).
Leslie Salt Factory
Leaving Fremont, the Capitols pass out into the salt marsh fringes of San Francisco Bay. On the edge of the marsh is the Leslie Salt factory;10,000 acres of salt pond are visible on both sides of the tracks. The factory and large piles of white salt are seen on the right.
San Francisco Bay Natural Wildlife Refuge
Passing the salt factory and light industry area, the train enters the San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge. It is the largest urban refuge in the country. A visitor center, naturalist programs, hiking, and fishing are available here. The San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge provides food and shelter for millions of waterfowl, shorebirds, and seabirds every year. As many as half the birds migrating between the Arctic and Baja spend the winter on or near the refuge. The refuge, along with the entire Bay-Delta system, hosts on average 600,000-800,000 water birds at a time.
In the midst of the Wildlife Refuge are the remains of Drawbridge, once a bustling port community. Founded in 1876 as a station stop on the old South Pacific Coast Railroad, the village boasted several hotels and cabins. It was a unique place to live, since it was accessible only by train or boat. Unfortunately in the 1920's most of the buildings in Drawbridge began to sink due to severe problems with the aquifer system beneath the town.
Santa Clara/Great America
To reach the Great American theme park from the Santa Clara station, walk to the right under the overpass to Tasman Drive. Cross Tasman and walk through the parking lot to the gates.
San Jose is the final train stop on the Capitol route, and your connection point to Amtrak Thruway motorcoaches for Santa Cruz, Monterey, Soledad, San Luis Obispo, Solvang and Santa Barbara.
The San Jose station was completed in January 1936, and is now used by Amtrak's Coast Starlight, Caltrain, and Amtrak California's Capitols. The building is constructed in the Italian Renaissance Revival style. A large mural inside depicts the colonization for the Santa Clara Valley c.1936.
San Jose Arena
The San Jose Arena is adjacent to the station. Also convenient to the San Jose Amtrak Station are the Egyptian Museum, the San Jose Children's Discovery Museum and the City's Convention Center.
Does your train look as if it's going "backwards"?
That's because in the western direction, the locomotive is at the rear of the train, pushing rather than pulling. In this direction, the locomotive engineer controls the train reaches its destination, the engineer returns to the locomotive, which now pulls the train. Operating in this push-pull mode saves lots of time for the return trip.
How does the locomotive engineer know the location of other trains before he sees them?
The Centralized Traffic Control (CTC) system and Automatic Block System (ABS) allow the dispatcher to control hundreds of miles of train traffic from one remote location. The engineer and crew communicate with the train dispatcher by radio.
What Do the signals mean?
Signals on the railroad are similar to highway or road traffic signals. The position of the red or yellow light tells the engineer whether he should stop, slow down, or move onto a sliding because of an approaching train. A green light indicates all is clear ahead.