Amtrak California San Joaquins "Valley Views" Route Guide
Along the Route of
the San Joaquins
Trains have played a significant role in California's transportation
system since 1855, when the Sacramento Valley Railroad first opened
between the Sacramento waterfront and the city of Folsom. Soon
thereafter, rail lines were extended up and down the Sacramento
- San Joaquin Valley and into the Sierra foothills, making the
critical connection between mines, farms and factories.
Today, Amtrak California's San Joaquin trains and Thruway Motor
coaches, the product of a partnership between the country's national
rail passenger system and the State of California, extended almost
the entire length of California. Patterned after the Santa Fe
Railway's Golden Gate trains introduced in 1938, and operating
primarily over the tracks of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe
(BNSF) Railroad, the San Joaquin trains are the backbone of a
transportation network that extends, via coordinated motor coach,
to communities throughout the state.
As just noted, for most of their runs the San Joaquin trains use
the main line of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad. This
line was constructed from Stockton to Bakersfield between 1895
and 1898 by the San Francisco and San Joaquin Valley (SF&SJV)
Railroad, a company organized by local valley interests to provide
competition to Southern Pacific's line down the Valley. Once it
was completed, the SF&SJV was purchased by the Atchison, Topeka
and Santa Fe Railway in December 1898. The Santa Fe extended the
line west into the Bay Area, reaching Richmond in 1900 and Emeryville
in 1904. In 1995, the Santa Fe merged with the Burlington Northern
Railroad to form today's BNSF. Amtrak, however, uses Union Pacific
(formerly Southern Pacific) tracks to serve Bay Area stations
from Oakland to Martinez, and to reach Sacramento.
This guide highlights some of the major attractions and points
of interest along the train route. It is written in the perspective
of a trip from Oakland to Bakersfield, that is, from north to
south (or west to east, in railroad parlance). If you are traveling
in the opposite direction, start at the end and read toward the
front; and remember to look to the left if we have indicated right,
and to the right if we have indicated left. Station stops are
indicated by the boldest names (also underlined), with the distance
from each end of the route.
Does your train look as if it's going "backwards"?
If it goes, it's because the train is operating in "push" mode, with the locomotive at the
rear of the train, pushing instead of pulling. In this direction the locomotive engineer
controls the train from an operating compartment at the front of the first coach (also
known as a "cab car"). Although not a necessity on the San Joaquins (like it is on some
other corridors), operating in "push-pull" style can simplify operational procedures in
Bakersfield, since the train doesn't have to be physically turned around for its return
How does the locomotive engineer know the location of other trains before he sees them?
The Centralized Traffic Control (CTC) system allows the dispatcher to control hundreds
of miles of train traffic from one remote location. The engineer operates the train in
accordance with the signals set by the dispatcher, and the crew can communicate with the
dispatcher by radio if necessary.
What do the signals mean?
Signals on the railroad are similar to highway or road traffic signals. The position and
the of the lights tells the engineer whether he should stop, slow down or move onto a siding
because of an approaching train. A single green light indicates all is clear ahead.
miles from Bakersfield
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 "Las Encinas,"
meaning "The Oaks."
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 station. The square is named
after author Jack London and houses many interesting shops, restaurants
and hotels, plus a Jack London Museum.
The Jack London Square area offers easy access to ferry rides
across San Francisco Bay and to the Alameda - Contra Costa Transit
bus system. Always a popular destination in the Oakland area is
the Oakland Museum, with fascinating exhibits on the art, natural
history and history of California. The Museum can be reached from
the station via AC Transit.
PORT OF OAKLAND After leaving Oakland station, trains pass
by the West Oakland yard (on the left) where Amtrak trains are
maintained, serviced and supplied. Union Pacific's freight yards
are also located here. Beyond the yards the Port of Oakland, one
of the largest containerized freight shipping ports on the west
coast, is visible on the left side of the train. The Port handles
90% of Northern California's container traffic.Emeryville
310 miles from Bakersfield
Emeryville was named for Joseph Stickney Emery of New Hampshire,
who came to California in 1850 and bought the land on which the
city now stands. in 1904 the Santa Fe extended its main line into
Emeryville, which became the actual western end of the Santa Fe
Railway system, although the railroad's main Bay Area yard and
terminal facilities remained in Richmond.
In 1938 the Santa Fe began operating motor coaches across the
then-new Bay Bridge to carry passengers between its downtown San
Francisco terminal and train side in Emeryville, replacing its
San Francisco - Richmond ferry boats (Southern Pacific did not
replace its ferries with motor coaches until 1957). At the same
time Santa Fe also introduced the forerunner of today's coordinated
rail - bus service between San Francisco and Los Angeles: the
Golden Gate streamliners between Emeryville and Bakersfield with
railroad operated motor coaches from Bakersfield to Los Angeles
as well as across the Bay Bridge.
The Emeryville Station was constructed by the City of Emeryville
after 1989 Loama Prieta earthquake forced Amtrak to abandon Southern
Pacific's historic Sixteenth Street Station in Oakland. This is
the transfer point for passengers traveling to and from San Francisco
on Amtrak's special Thruway motor coach shuttle.
The name "Berkeley" was chosen by the committee that
selected the site for the first campus of the University of California.
The name pays homage to Bishop George Berkeley, who wrote the
famous stanza that begins, "Westward the course of empire
takes its way..." The campus is east of the tracks, at the
base of the hills.
The former Southern Pacific station building on the right was
converted into a restaurant some years ago. Amtrak's Capitol Corridor
trains stop at an adjacent passenger shelter beneath the University
Avenue overpass. The Capitols provide direct service between Berkeley
and Davis, home of another U.C. campus.Richmond
302 miles from Bakersfield
In Richmond, Amtrak stops at the BART station, using facilities
that were especially constructed to allow for a direct connection
between the two systems. The Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system
serves San Francisco and much of the East Bay area. One of the
BART's two major maintenance facilities is just beyond the station
on the right. The Amtrak station is not staffed.
The city of Richmond takes its name from nearby Point Richmond,
which in turn was named for Richmond, Virginia, birthplace of
Edmund Randolph, who represented San Francisco at the first session
of the California legislature at San Jose in 1849.
Richmond's deep water port and rail connections provide excellent
shipping terminals for many oil refineries in the surrounding
area. It was a major ship yard center in World War II, building
20% of the Liberty ships (freighters) used during the war; by
adapting assembly - line techniques, a ship could be built in
only 48.5 days.
THE TUNNEL Between Richmond and Crockett is Tunnel Number
One. At 604 feet long, it is the only tunnel on the San Joaquin
CROCKETT At Crockett, Interstate Highway 80 passes far
overhead on the twin Carquinez Bridges. These two bridges are
among the longest of their type in the world. The original cantilever
span opened in 1927. Though built by a private company, it soon
became part of the State's highway system. The second span (on
the left when facing the water) was added in the 1950's.
Across the Carquinez Strait to the left, almost underneath the
bridges, are the buildings of the California Maritime Academy.
The Academy's training ship Golden Bear can sometimes be seen
tied up there.
Just beyond the Carquinez Bridge, Crockett's most famous feature,
the massive California and Hawaii (C & H) Sugar Company refinery,
extends for some distance along the left side of the tracks. The
oldest buildings in the complex were built in the 1880's as a
flour mill. Special tankers carry raw cane sugar to the refinery
from Hawaii for processing. Once refined, the sugar is shipped
to market by rail and truck.
PORT COSTA The town of Port Costa can be glimpsed on the
right a few minutes after passing through Crockett. Port Costa
was once a major ferry terminal for the Southern Pacific Railroad.
Entire trains were carried across the Carquinez Strait on immense
ferryboats which held up to 48 cars and one locomotive per voyage.
Before the Benicia Martinez bridge was constructed, Port Costa
was where the San Joaquin Valley line separated from the "Overland
In the late nineteenth century Port Costa was also one of the
busiest wheat shipping ports in the world, as grain from California's
great Central Valley was brought here by train and loaded into
ocean - going ships for distribution around the world. The vast
maze of pilings sticking out of the water on the left are the
only remnant of Port Costa's once extensive waterfront facilities.
BENICIA - MARTINEZ BRIDGE Looking ahead on the left side
of the train, the Benicia - Martinez Bridge can be seen crossing
Carquinez Strait. At 5,603 feet long, it is the longest and heaviest
double track railroad bridge west of the Mississippi River. The
tracks are 70 feet above the water, and the 328 - foot long lift
span provides 135 feet of clearance for ocean going ships and
can be raised in 90 seconds. The bridge was built in 1928 to carry
the "Overland Route" main line across the Strait, replacing
the cumbersome Port Costa - Benicia ferry operation. The adjacent
highway bridge was not opened until 1964.Martinez
283 miles from Bakersfield
The city of Martinez was named in honor of Ignacio Martinez, a
Mexican officer who was comandante of the Presidio of San Francisco
for several years. He was granted the Rancho El Pinole, extending
from Pinole Point eastward to the site of the present city. Martinez
is the seat of Contra Costa County, and many county officers are
within walking distance of the train station. Also within walking
distance is the downtown shopping district, famous for its many
fine antique shops.
Martinez was the residence of famed naturalist John Muir from
1890 until his death in 1914. Many of his writings were penned
in the "scribble den" of the house, which was declared
the John Muir National Historic Site in 1964. It is open daily
to visitors and is easily reached by local transit.
Martinez is the transfer point for Amtrak Thruway connecting motor
coaches to Marine World Africa USA, Napa, Santa Rosa and Redwood
Empire points as far north as Eureka/Arcata. At Martinez travelers
can also connect with long distance Amtrak trains to the East
and Pacific Northwest.
At Martinez the San Joaquins leave the "Overland Route"
and head down Union Pacific Railroad's "Mococo Line"
toward a connection with the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad
at Port Chicago.
THE MOTHBALL FLEET Prominent in Suisun Bay, and visible
in the distance on the left, is the "mothball fleet"
of retired U.S. Navy ships. Dating back as far as World War II,
the ships are stored here because the low salinity of the water
resists the accumulation of barnacles on ships hulls. Northbound
passengers also get their first look at the Benicia - Martinez
Bridge (see above) beyond the fleet.
PORT CHICAGO At Port Chicago the San Joaquins switch from
the Union Pacific Railroad to the tracks of the Burlington Northern
Santa Fe, which they use for the rest of the trip to Bakersfield.Antioch
PITTSBURG STEEL PLANT After passing through the industrial
city of Pittsburg, the sprawling buildings of the former United
States Steel Company fabricating plant can be seen on the left
side of the train. Part of the plant is still used for the manufacture
of steel products, while portions of it have been converted to
other industrial uses. Final assembly of the "California
Car" equipment used on the San Joaquins and Capitols was
265 miles from Bakersfield
Originally called Smith Landing, the residents in 1852 decided
to name the community Antioch, after the Biblical city. The station,
which was not staffed, was constructed by the city to serve the
growing east Contra Costa County region. A number of heavy industries
are located close to the shore of Suisun Bay, but the rest of
the region is a mixture of traditional agriculture and new residential
development. The Contra Costa Company fairgrounds are located
a few blocks from the station. Terrain - wise, Antioch is where
San Joaquins enter the great valley for which they are named.
The landmark Mount Diablo is prominently visible on the right
after leaving Antioch.
SAN JOAQUIN RIVER DELTA Twelve miles after leaving Antioch,
the tracks curve to the left and head due east across the Delta
of the San Joaquin River. The Delta is a region of channels, sloughs,
marshes and below-sea-level islands ringed by high levees. The
islands contain some of the richest farmland in the country, and
the entire region teems with wildlife.
The huge pipes parallel to the tracks on the right side of the
train belong to the East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD).
They carry fresh water from the Sierras to the urban communities
of the Bay Area.
ORWOOD At Orwood the San Joaquins cross the Old Rover (a
former channel of the San Joaquin River) on the only regularly
operating drawbridge along the route. Trains occasionally have
to wait as the bridge is opened for recreational boats on the
HOLT Until recently a siding and now east end of a short
section of double track, Holt was named for the adjacent ranch
of Benjamin Holt, who founded a forerunner of the Caterpillar
Tractor Company after he developed the tracked method of propulsion
for tractors and other machinery.Sacramento
283 miles from Bakersfield
Sacramento is not actually on the route of trains operating between
Oakland and Bakersfield, but since 1981 California's capital city
has been linked to those trains by special Amtrak bus shuttles
to and from Stockton. Finally, on February 21, 1999, the fifth
San Joaquin round trip was inaugurated as a direct train between
Sacramento and Bakersfield, joining the established Oakland -
Bakersfield route a mile east of the Stockton Amtrak station.
Although the permanent route of the Sacramento trains will be
on the former Southern Pacific main line to Stockton (constructed
in 1869 as part of the original transcontinental railroad), for
an interim period they will often run on the former Western Pacific
main line while rehabilitation work is underway on the former
SP line. Both lines are now part of the Union Pacific Railroad.Stockton
234 miles from Bakersfield
Stockton was founded in 1849 by Captain Charles M. Weber, who
named the city in honor of Commodore Robert F. Stockton, California's
first military governor. As a major river port, Stockton quickly
became the primary "jumping off point" for the southern
part of the Mother Lode. In 1869 it also became a railroad town,
when the original transcontinental line was extended from Sacramento
to the shores of San Francisco Bay. Stockton is the seat of San
Joaquin County, one of the most diverse agricultural counties
in the U.S. It is home of the University of the Pacific, California's
first co-educational college.
Several prominent Stockton residents were involved in the organization
of the San Francisco and San Joaquin Valley Railroad, and construction
of what is now the BNSF main line began in Stockton on the shores
of Mormon Slough in the summer of 1895. The present station building
(on the left side of the train) was constructed in 1900, shortly
after Santa Fe acquired ownership of the line. It is the second
oldest station building still in use on the route.
Trains to and from Sacramento (see above) do not stop at this
station, as the Sacramento route diverges from the BNSF main line
about a mile to the east (toward Bakersfield). The Sacramento
trains stop in Stockton at the unstaffed ACE commuter train station,
which is located adjacent to the former Southern Pacific station
building about a mile north of the junction.
ESCALON Escalon is the Spanish word for "step or steeping
stone." The town was supposedly so named by its founder James
W. Jones because he liked the sound of the word.
RIVERBANK Coming into Riverbank the San Joaquins cross
the Stanislaus River and enter the county of the same name. The
name is derived from "Estanislao," and baptismal name
given to a local Indian chief. Riverbank at one time was the division
point separating the Second and Third Districts of Santa Fe's
Valley Division, and it still hosts a small local switching yard.
It is also the origin of a 6.5-mile branch line that runs east
(left) to Oakdale to connect with the fabled short line Sierra
Railway. From 1974 until 1999, Riverbank served as the Amtrak
stop for the nearby city of Modesto.Modesto
miles from Oakland
204 miles from Bakersfield
When the Central Pacific Railroad was building the original line
down the San Joaquin Valley, the name "Ralston" was
suggested for the town planned at this site. William C. Ralston,
a San Francisco financier and associate of the railroad's builders,
declined the honor. When a local caballero commented that he was
very modest, Mr. Ralston is reported to have replied, "That's
a good name; let's call it 'Modesto' [the Spanish word for modest]."
Modesto, the seat of Stanislaus County, is the third-largest city
in the San Joaquin Valley. Although the original SF&SJV route
passed by to the east of the city, Modesto has grown rapidly in
recent years, and its boundaries have expanded to include a portion
of the BNSF main line. On October 31, 1999, the City opened a
new full-service Amtrak station in a developing suburban area
northeast of downtown. Financed jointly by the City and the State,
this striking facility features spacious public areas, modern
amenities and ample parking. It is also served by the Modesto
EMPIRE The community of Empire was once the head of navigation
on the Tuolumne River and the seat of Stanislaus County, but it
was overshadowed by nearby Modesto after the Central Pacific established
the latter town in 1870. Empire later became Santa Fe's station
Modesto, and the interurban Modesto and Empire Traction (M&ET)
was built to connect the two towns.
Now known as Modesto-Empire Junction on the railroad, Empire is
a major freight hub for the BNSF. A large, modern inter modal
terminal can be seen on the right, and the M&ET provides a
significant amount of inter-change traffic to and from industries
in the area.
Immediately south of Empire, the San Joaquins cross the Tuolumne
River on a new main line span constructed in 1996. The older bridge
on the right now carries a switching lead for the yard.Turlock/Denair
miles from Oakland
192 miles from Bakersfield
Turlock is an important poultry-processing center and the home
of the Stanislaus campus of the California State University system.
The city was named by H.W. Lander after a lake in Ireland called
Turlough, meaning "dry lake." The San Joaquins began
serving Turlock in 1984, when an unstaffed station facility was
constructed at Denair.
The unincorporated community of Denair developed around the siding
on the Santa Fe line that was nearest to Turlock. It was named
for John Denair, former Santa Fe Division Superintendent at Needles,
who purchased to the town site in 1906, shortly after his retirement.
MERCED RIVER A pair of sweeping curves and a broad lush
flood plain mark the BNSF line's crossing of the Merced River.
This is a marked contrast to the canyon-like crossings of the
other major rivers flowing out of the central Sierras. Captain
Gabriel Moraga named the river for the Virgin Mary ("our
lady of Mercy") because of the relief it provided his exploring
party after crossing forty miles of arid country.
CASTLE AIR FORCE BASE On the left side of the train can
be seen the interesting museum of historic military aircraft of
Castle Air Force Base. Although the base was recently decommissioned
after years of service as a Strategic Air Command (SAC) bomber
facility, the museum remains open to visitors.Merced
miles from Oakland
168 miles from Bakersfield
The city of Merced, and the county of which it is the seat, took
their names from the nearby Merced River. Merced has always considered
itself the "Gateway to Yosemite" (until 1945 there was
train service to the Park's entrance), and deluxe motor coaches
meet several of the San Joaquins to transport visitors directly
into the Park.
In 1998 Amtrak moved into temporary facilities in Merced, so that
a new station could be constructed on the site of the former Santa
Fe station building. Although the Santa Fe building was the newest
railroad-built (i.e., pre-Amtrak) station in use along the BNSF
line, having been constructed in 1918 to replace the original
wood structure, it had structural deficiencies and could not be
rehabilitated. The temporary facilities are on the site of one
of two Harvey House restaurants in the Valley, which was torn
down some years ago.Madera
miles from Oakland
132 miles from Bakersfield
Madera is the Spanish word for wood or timber. The city was so
named because it was at one time the terminus of a 63-mile long
flume which carried lumber products down from the Sierra Sugar-pine
The Santa Fe main line was built slightly to east of Madera, which
was served by a short spur line running west (right) from the
location of the present unstaffed Amtrak station.
SAN JOAQUIN RIVER Nearing Fresno, the San Joaquins cross
their name-sake river on the highest and longest bridge on the
route. Going south the crossing is quite dramatic, as the flat
valley floor drops away suddenly at the cliff-like north bank
of the river; going north the ground slopes down gradually to
the river. The San Joaquin River and its valley take their name
from Saint Joaquin (Joseph), father of the Virgin Mary.Fresno
miles from Oakland
110 miles from Bakersfield
Fresno is the largest city in the San Joaquin Valley, with an
urban area population of 555,000. It is the seat of Fresno County
and the home of Fresno State University. Its name derives from
the Spanish word for ash tree, reflecting the abundance of mountain
ash in the area. Fresno is the world center of dried fruit and
sweet wine industries.
The newest suburban developments in Fresno start appearing just
after crossing the San Joaquin River, while downtown is still
about ten miles ahead. Closer in, the trains pass through the
campus of Fresno City College, then for the last mile to the station
they run right down the edge of city streets. The large modern
building on the right just before arriving at the station is Fresno's
new City Hall, opened in 1991.
Fresno became Santa Fe's Valley Division headquarters in 1905.
The passenger station constructed at that time was converted to
office use prior to the institution of Amtrak service in the San
Joaquin Valley in 1974, so Amtrak uses the first floor of the
former freight office building. Fresno is the busiest stop on
the San Joaquins, and the city is planning to build a new station
immediately to the south of the existing buildings.
CALWA BNSF's major Fresno yard and terminal facilities
(visible on the right) are located south of downtown at a place
identified as Calwa. The name is actually an acronym for the California
Wine Association, a major industrial organization at the time
the line was built.
Calwa is the actual dividing point between today's Bakersfield
and Stockton Subdivisions; and the former branch lines to Visalia
and Porterville, now operated by short line San Joaquin Valley
Railroad, diverge to the left just beyond the station building
(also on the left). Although not a passenger stop, the San Joaquins
do occasionally pause here for operational reasons.
At the south end of the yard, the San Joaquins cross the Union
Pacific (former Southern Pacific) main line and duck under old
Highway 99; the SR 99 freeway then passes overhead half-a-mile
miles from Oakland
80 miles from Bakersfield
The City of Hanford was laid out in 1877 by the Southern Pacific
Railroad and named for James Hanford, a local railroad official.
The Amtrak station, now owned by the city, was built in 1897 by
the SF&SJV Railroad when it arrived in Hanford. It is the
oldest station building on the San Joaquin Route and the only
station on the BNSF line that predates Santa Fe acquisition of
the SF&SJV in 1898. It was recently renovated by the city
for use as a multi-modal transportation terminal. An Amtrak Thruway
bus connection is available here for San Luis Obispo and central
coast points, and inter city buses link Hanford to Visalia and
other nearby communities.
miles from Oakland
63 miles from Bakersfield
Corcoran was named in honor of H.J. Corcoran of Stockton, who
was a leader of the Stockton Commercial Association and one of
the original stock holders of the SF&SJV Railroad. North of
the station the other end of the former Visalia branch (now the
SJV RR) heads off to the left: at one time this secondary line
from Corcoran to Fresno was considered the main line, but the
original line through Hanford soon regained that distinction.
Corcoran was established as an unstaffed San Joaquin stop in 1989.
In 1999 a new station building, constructed by the City in the
style of the former Santa Fe station, replaced the original passenger
ALLENSWORTH Allensworth was founded as an experimental
farming community for former black slaves. It was named in honor
of Colonel Allen B. Allensworth. Today the community is a State
Park. The San Joaquins can stop at Allensworth when arranged in
advance for groups visiting the park.Wasco
miles from Oakland
25 miles from Bakersfield
Wasco is noted for its commercial rose growers, and acres of rose
bushes can be seen on both sides of the train south of town. The
city sponsors a well-known Rose Festival every September. Wasco
was named by William Bonham, an early settler who came from Wasco
miles from Oakland
Bakersfield is the southern terminal of the San Joaquin trains.
At this point the majority of the passengers transfer to or from
Amtrak Thruway motor coaches serving Los Angeles and a number
of other Southern California cities and towns. This coordinated
rail-motor coach service was pioneered by the Santa Fe Railway
in 1938, when it inaugurated the Golden Gate streamliners in the
Bakersfield in the second largest city in the San Joaquin Valley
and the seat of Kern County. It was named for Colonel Thomas Baker
who entered the Valley in 1865. The name derives from "Baker's
Field," referring to an early horse quartering and feeding
The Bakersfield station complex, which include a Harvey House
and extensive bus transfer facilities, was torn down after the
end of Santa Fe passenger service in 1971. When Amtrak reestablished
Valley passenger service in 1974, a temporary trailer was set
up as a ticket office. The present station building was constructed
by the State in 1985. The City of Bakersfield is constructing
a new multi-modal passenger terminal about a mile to the east,
adjacent to their Convention Center. It is scheduled to open in
July, 2000. (TrainWeb Editor's Note: The new Bakersfield station opened
without a hitch on July 4, 2000.)
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