Railway Preservation News

Niles Canyon RR/PLA Construction Efforts
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Author:  Rob Gardner [ Mon May 05, 2008 10:39 pm ]
Post subject:  Niles Canyon RR/PLA Construction Efforts

What with the news of 2472 getting out and stretching her legs in the Niles Canyon, I've taken a real interest in the effort it's taken PLA to reconstruct so much of the line.

Just today on TO, someone posted a link to Live Search Maps, which allowed to virtually follow the actual trackage through Niles Canyon. You can see the two legs of the wye which were recently completed at Niles Jct. You can see the connection at Hearst. You can also see that there's quite a bit of cleared ROW continuing RR east into Pleasanton. It appears that PLA has build a couple of crossings and perhaps built track over a bridge at Happy Valley Road (or is that an at-grade crossing?). I'm assuming this is all in advance of actual track construction being pushed further towards Pleasanton.

Can someone answer the following for me?

1. Does PLA hope to have a functioning wye at Niles Jct? I can only assume that UP won't their main to be the remaining leg.

2. The interchange track at Hearst is sure to the UP's benefit and none to the PLA's although any connection is better than no connection. Talk about minimal headroom on a switchback move to get from UP to PLA! Are there any plans to lengthen the stub end of the connection on UP's side of the crossing?

3. How much further do they plan to build toward/into Pleasanton? It looks like Stanley Blvd is the end of the clear ROW. I'm guessing UP strategically allowed a few hundred yards of ROW to be sold off for residential development so that the line could not be reestablished through to Radium and E.Pleasanton. It looks like you could possibly squeeze the track right up against Stanley Blvd but the bike trail might have to go!

4. Is there a dedicated discussion forum where out-of-towners can learn more about what is going on currently or in the planning stages with PLA?

All I can say is I hope to see 2472 continuing to operate on this line. I'm seriously considering making a special trip to the West Coast just to see this line in action and 2472 in particular.

Congrats to PLA and GGRM. Hopefully the joining of the two collections on this one property will lead to some impressive synergy in the future. This operation really rivals what a lot of the British preservation efforts have accomplished.

Rob Gardner

Author:  Randolph R. Ruiz [ Tue May 06, 2008 4:56 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Niles Canyon RR/PLA Construction Efforts

As long as it is clear that I am not speaking on behalf of the PLA or GGRM, I can try to answer some of your questions to the best of my ability.

There is a bridge at Happy Valley.

1. The PLA does hope to complete the wye at Niles, but it is not an extremely high priority. The ongoing maintenance of the existing track is taxing, and the new construction efforts are focused on expanding the storage capacity at the Brightside yard (it is very crowded and about to get crowdeder) and completing a "runaround" siding in Niles. Nevertheless, a complete switch was just moved to Niles for the wye's south corner, and the west wye switch will be a part of the new runaround. It will not be much more work to finish the wye once those assets are in place, although the south tail (pointing towards San Jose) will need a lot of grading work to allow a usable length of track to be built there. Being able to turn locomotives at one end does not really help without a turntable or wye at the other end. I am maybe just a little worried that the completed wye might fill up with more "collection."

The next phase of development in Niles will focus on providing improved visitor facilities, but that is another subject...

2. I do not think there are any plans to lengthen the tail of that spur. It has been proven that a pretty large collection of equipment can be moved through there with a number of carefully planned switch moves. It was a tremendous achievement to get the connection to the UP built and it was largely funded through transportation enhancement funds.

3. The county-owned right of way extends to Bernal in Pleasanton. I believe the PLA wishes to build all the way there, but there are concerns about the limited amount of space available and the role that NIMBYs might play in the process. The town has a very pleasant main street, and it would be nice to get the trains to within an easy walking distance of the shops and restaurants. Connecting between two historic downtowns at each end would be fantastic.

The history of the ROW through Pleasanton is long and complicated, and I am certain I will get it wrong if I attempt to relate that tale here, but I think the story goes back to how the land was acquired to build the railroad in 1869 by the original Western Pacific, which was controlled by the Central Pacific at the time. And no, I do not mean the same WP that was built in 1909. Building the line to Pleasanton is the next priority, and a fair number of track panels have recently been staged at the current end of track at Verona Road.

4. The PLA publishes a good newsletter and also maintains an email list for members. Membership is very reasonable.

I think it would be nice to list current projects on the website, but that is also another topic. There are a lot of great restoration projects underway at Brightside, and the PLA has a remarkable percentage of its diesel fleet operable and painted.

The presence of the 2472 and the GGRM is a great thing on the railroad, and together, the two groups will be able to field a terrific looking train. For a number of reasons, I think the Pacific will probably only run in the canyon for special events. I hope no one has the idea that they will be able to see the engine under steam on a regular operating day. In other words, come on out for this next event, because I don't know when the next one will happen.

The PLA also has a great collection of steam locomotives, but the little logging engines are not a perfect fit for the operation. Just to express a personal fantasy for a moment, I think it would be tremendous if the organization could get its hands on a nice mid-sized SP engine like a 2-6-0, 2-8-0, or 4-6-0. Maybe even a big, late-model 4-4-0? Any ideas?

(of course, I also like ATSF steam, but I think Henry L. would have a fit)

Tie replacement photo on Flickr: http://flickr.com/photos/rrr/453063111/in/set-72157594523843711/

Author:  Rob Gardner [ Tue May 06, 2008 7:10 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Niles Canyon RR/PLA Construction Efforts


Thanks for the detailed response. While we'd all love to see 2472 running every weekend, you're right in that we'll be lucky to see her a handful of times each year. With enough notice or advanced scheduling, I'd get a plane ticket and rent a car for the weekend to see her in action.

Do they have the ROW secured to complete the wye at Niles Jct? Do they have a date or goal for extending the track into Pleasanton? How much track can they build with the panels they have onhand?

Thanks for the photo link to Flickr showing the trackwork and tie replacement in progress. I love trackwork and do it for a living for Railworks back here in Ohio.

Any idea why they are using panels to construct the new track? Have they built most of the line that way or was any of it stick built in place? Have they built all this track with volunteer help or did they ever hire contractors along the way?

I can think a really pretty SP 2-6-0 now making its living in southern Colorado that might look right at home in Niles Canyon!

Rob Gardner

Author:  Randolph R. Ruiz [ Tue May 06, 2008 7:49 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Niles Canyon RR/PLA Construction Efforts

Wow, questions questions questions.

Once again, I need to reiterate that I do not represent the the PLA or the GGRM, and anything I say could very well be wrong.

Wye ROW? Yes, well, the whole property is owned by the county and the PLA has a license agreement for its use. The land includes the wye and most of the grading has already been done. The license was just renewed for another 25 years.

Pleasanton - Goals? I really can not say. Everyone hopes it will be sooner rather than later, but expansion is a lower priority than maintenance. I should mention that the track from the UP connection at Hearst/Bonita to the end at Verona is in need of a lot of work as well.

I have heard there are enough panels to make it to Happy Valley. The PLA acquires appropriate track materials as they are made available. I think that much of it has been donated, but there is still a huge amount of labor involved in collecting these things. Ballast, on the other hand is bought new. The railroad will need many tons of crushed rock under the extended rails.

Along most of the line, the SP pulled the rails and left the ties and ballast. This made the initial track reconstruction much easier, but also stuck the PLA with a lot of ties past due. The remaining stretch to Pleasanton has spoiled ballast and no ties.

Almost all of the track work has been done by volunteers. Some recent tie replacement has been done by contractors. Also, some of the work in Niles has been done by contractors for various reasons. I don't know how apparent it is in the aerial photos, but there is even on decent sized stretch with concrete ties east of Sunol.

Thanks for the interest,


Author:  Ted Miles [ Thu May 08, 2008 3:00 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Niles Canyon RR/PLA Construction Efforts


I have been riding through Niles Canyon since the first PLA motor cars moved there.

It is a place that would be worth a long trip to visit.

They will be doing the SP Pacific runs soon and I plan to ride one of them.

I was there a couple of weeks ago and the 2972 was hot for testing. She is sure a good looking locomotive. But then I like Pacifics.

The PLA publishes The Club Car monthly. And all the older issues are available on a set of DVDs if you want to follow the history of the organization.

Although not much commented on the PLA recently got a 25 year lease for the right of way.

this is in no way official; but there seems to be significant local objection to taking their trains into Pleasenton.

I suspect that you will be riding the Niles wye and visiting the proposed replica station before you go the other way.

Ted Miles

Author:  rusticmike [ Fri May 09, 2008 7:51 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Niles Canyon RR/PLA Construction Efforts

The non-Niles Canyon part of the Niles Canyon Railway is IIR 4 miles-from Sunol to Bernal Road. It is not as dramatic as the stretch from Sunol to Niles, no big bridges, no Canyon. It does have some interesting possibilities, pretty good tangent, good climb to the ?th tee of the Castlewood Country Club, a nice sweeping turn under 680 and decent to P'town, ending at the senior center. Probably less track maintenance once installed compared to the canyon trackage. Would give people a chance to take a less dramatic trip if the canyon train(s) were full or just departed. The pull up the3 hill to Castlewood would offer some good stack talk. Parking at Sunol would be a challenge. If P'town would support boarding in P'town, it might be an interesting variation. The canyon is hard to beat though.

Author:  Randolph R. Ruiz [ Sat May 10, 2008 3:57 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Niles Canyon RR/PLA Construction Efforts

The rest of the line east of Sunol is still pretty scenic and unspoiled. I have seen a lot of museums run their trains in worse places. The line is in a valley and lined with trees and fields. There is a 500' through plate girder bridge, an underpass beneath the former Western Pacific, and a grade up the side of the valley that allows for some views. After crossing under I-680, the line enters a conventional suburban sprawl. The historic downtown of Pleasanton is just a block beyond the future end of the line. I think the PLA understands that operating trains between two pedestrian-oriented business districts is a pretty ideal set up.

Also, it is not clear what kind of constraints the city of Pleasanton will be able place on the PLA's operations. I think that technically, railroad operations and the facilities necessary to support them are exempt from local planning regulations. Federal laws preempt them. Anyone have any experience with this?

For those that are just too curious, you might be interested in a map I have started to develop using Google Maps to document the historic resources of the line between Niles and Pleasanton. I just started this a couple of weeks ago, and much more survey work needs to be done to locate and document the line's features -especially east of Sunol. This Google map is an interesting tool. It is kind of a poorman's GIS (Geographic Information System) and has a lot of plug-in features that you can use to take measurements, and get coordinates with. I have color coded the resources and have begun to add in descriptions for each of them. I intend to add photos as well, and will probably use either Picasa or flickr to host them.

I tried to embed the map into this posting, but I don't think it is possible. (sigh). Anyway, here is the link:

Link to Map

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