Map of the South Pacific Coast Railroad in California.

(Thewellman, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons)


The South Pacific Coast Railroad (SPC) was a 3 ft (914 mm) narrow gauge steam railroad running between Santa Cruz, California, and Alameda, with a ferry connection in Alameda to San Francisco. The railroad was created as the Santa Clara Valley Railroad, founded by local strawberry growers as a way to get their crops to market in San Francisco and provide an alternative to the Southern Pacific Railroad. In 1876, James Graham Fair, a Comstock Lode silver baron, bought the line and extended it into the Santa Cruz Mountains to capture the significant lumber traffic coming out of the redwood forests. The narrow-gauge line was originally laid with 52-pound-per-yard (26 kg/m) rail on 8-foot (2.44 m) redwood ties; and was later acquired by the Southern Pacific and converted to 4 ft 8+1⁄2 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge.


"Views on the South Pacific Coast Railroad"

featuring locations in Santa Cruz County (1882).

(A. Mathews, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Schedule and fares for March 4, 1887.

(The Daily Examiner March 4, 1887, page 6, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)



SPC was incorporated in 1876 to purchase the unfinished Santa Clara Valley Company railroad at Dumbarton Point. Dumbarton Point was then a landing to transfer agricultural produce from the Santa Clara Valley for transport to San Francisco. Railway shops were built in Newark and a 3 ft (914 mm) narrow gauge line to San Jose was completed in 1876. The SPC ferry Newark offered connecting service from Newark to San Francisco in 1877. In 1878 the SPC was extended from San Jose to Los Gatos; and the subsidiary Bay and Coast Railroad completed a line of trestles and fill along the eastern edge of San Francisco Bay from Newark to Alameda. The ferry connection to San Francisco shifted to Alameda as SPC ferrys Bay City and Garden City increased the frequency and reliability of connecting service.

Two years and eight tunnels were required to extend the SPC through the Santa Cruz Mountains from Los Gatos to California's third busiest seaport at Santa Cruz in 1880. SPC leased the San Lorenzo Flume and Transportation Company to acquire their subsidiary Santa Cruz and Felton Railroad as a route through the city to Santa Cruz municipal pier. The big lumber transport flume was replaced by a 7 miles (11 km) logging branch in 1883. In 1886 another branch line was built to the New Almaden mercury mine; and the SPC main line was extended from Alameda to Oakland. Additional horsedrawn branch lines served Centerville (now Fremont) and Agnews State Hospital. Commuter trains fed the San Francisco ferries from east bay communities, two daily trains served Santa Cruz, and four daily locals served the logging branch to Boulder Creek. Excursion trains ran from the ferries to resorts of the south bay and Santa Cruz Mountains. Freight trains carried redwood lumber, mercury, sacked lime, gunpowder from the California Powder Works, and local agricultural produce.


Postcard photo of the Southern Pacific Big Tree station and locomotive No. 21, circa 1910s.

(Cardinell-Vincent Co. San Francisco & Los Angeles, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)


Southern Pacific control

By 1887 SPC was a major California transportation concern; and Southern Pacific paid six million dollars to merge it into their California transportation system (equivalent to $203 million in 2023). An 1893 winter storm caused a landslide in the Santa Cruz Mountains requiring major reconstruction to restore service. The Alameda ferry terminal burned in 1902 and was replaced with the modern terminal which survived until ferry service was discontinued by the San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge in 1939. The 3 ft (914 mm) gauge line had 23 locomotives, 85 passenger cars and 500 freight cars before the conversion to standard gauge began. The transition to standard gauge was interrupted by the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. The line through the Santa Cruz Mountains suffered major damage including a lateral slip of 5 feet (1.5 m) in the tunnel where it crossed the San Andreas fault. The bridge across San Leandro Bay was damaged and abandoned. Conversion to standard gauge was completed in 1909. 3 ft (914 mm) narrow gauge locomotives numbered 9, 23, and 26 were eventually acquired by the Ilwaco Railway and Navigation Company. Other SPC 3 ft (914 mm) gauge equipment was sold to the Carson and Colorado Railway, the White Pass and Yukon Route, the Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad, the Pacific Coast Railway, the Lake Tahoe Railway and Transportation Company, and the Northwestern Pacific Railroad.


Standard gauge operation

The track in Alameda could only be used for local service after being isolated by the 1906 earthquake. It was electrified in 1911 and operated as part of the SP's East Bay Electric Lines until 1941. The remaining line from San Jose to San Leandro Bay became part of the Southern Pacific coast division main line.

However, the southern end of the system from San Jose to Santa Cruz was reclassified as a branch line by 1915, useful only to lighter locomotives, as two or three were required to move trains over the grade. Beginning in 1927, it was used by SP's Suntan Special seasonal excursion trains which came down the San Francisco Peninsula every summer Sunday and took passengers right to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. The Boulder Creek branch was dismantled in 1934 after a few years of service by a McKeen railmotor. The tracks through the Santa Cruz Mountains suffered major damage during a storm on February 29, 1940. The last train ran on 26 February 1940 and the line was officially abandoned on 4 June 1940.

The line from San Jose to Los Gatos remained in freight service after the last commuter train ran in 1955. The two southernmost tunnels (No. 8/Mission Hill and No. 6/Rincon) continued to be used until 1993, when a fire inside the Rincon Tunnel led to a landslide which collapsed it. The Santa Cruz depot was used for SP's surviving coastal line from Watsonville Junction until the building was sold in the 1970s and converted to a restaurant.


North portal of Summit Tunnel, 1895.

(, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)



In total, the line would include eight tunnels, of which five were built for SPCR, and two were previously built for the Santa Cruz and Felton Railroad (No. 7/Hogsback and No. 8/Mission Hill),  south of where the two lines met at Big Trees;  the Felton was absorbed into the SPCR by 1879. Two were daylighted (No. 1/Cats Canyon) during or prior to the conversion to standard gauge in the early 1900s. Two survive today (No. 5/Zayante and No. 8/Mission Hill), although only the Mission Hill tunnel still carries rail traffic.


Cats Canyon. (See page for author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Summit / Wrights. (See page for author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Laurel / Glenwood. (See page for author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Glenwood / Mtn Charlie / Clems. (See page for author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Coon Gulch / Rincon. (See page for author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Mission Hill. (See page for author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

South Pacific Coast Railroad Tunnels

Number Number after regauge Name Length Notes
1 N/A Cats Canyon 191 ft (58 m) Approx. 0.3 mi (0.48 km) south of Los Gatos Station, built through a rock outcropping in Cats Canyon. Daylighted as an open cut in 1903 during the conversion of the railroad to standard gauge.
2 1 Summit / Wrights 6,200 ft (1,900 m) Longest. Ran from Wrights Station to Burns Creek near Laurel, crossing underneath Summit Road. Portals sealed in 1942.
3 2 Laurel / Glenwood 5,793 ft (1,766 m) Second longest tunnel. Connected Laurel to Glenwood, crossing underneath the present location of California State Route 17. Portals sealed in 1942.
4 3 Glenwood / Mtn Charlie / Clems 913 ft (278 m) connected Clems, under a ridge, to Mountain Charlie gulch. Portals sealed in 1942.
5 4 Zayante / Storage Vault 250 ft (76 m) One of the shortest tunnels, in Zayante. It is currently being used as a records storage facility by Iron Mountain.
6 5 Coon Gulch / Rincon 338 ft (103 m) In San Lorenzo Gorge; originally built in 1879 to ease a sharp curve around a rock outcropping that had previously damaged trains. Damaged by fire in 1993 and bypassed.
7 N/A Hogsback 282 ft (86 m) Also in San Lorenzo Gorge; it was originally 127 ft (39 m) long when it opened in 1875 and lengthened in 1879, but it collapsed in 1898 and was daylighted.
8 6 Mission Hill 927 ft (283 m) In Santa Cruz itself, carries the route under Mission Santa Cruz. As initially completed, 918 ft (280 m) long.

The construction of Tunnel No. 2/Summit started in 1877, with Chinese workers under O.B. Castle. It would take nearly two years and 30 lives to complete, as it crosses the San Andreas Fault and workers encountered oil and natural gas seepage which would explode.  One series of explosions, early in the morning of November 18, 1879, claimed multiple lives. It was destroyed by a 5 ft (1.5 m) lateral shift following the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and had to be dug again; with the broad-gauge conversion, the work was not completed until March 1909.

Three of these tunnels were sealed shortly after the line was abandoned: No. 2/Summit, No. 3/Glenwood (Laurel), and No. 4/ Mountain Charlie (Clems). Under contract to Southern Pacific, the F.A. Christie railroad salvage firm removed the track and trestles and, when this was completed in April 1942, dynamited these three tunnels. Although a long-persistent rumor holds that destruction of the tunnels was motivated by post-Pearl Harbor fears of a Japanese invasion of the United States West Coast, the decision to dynamite them predated the Pearl Harbor attack and was made solely for business reasons. Tunnel No. 5/Zayante was also part of the abandoned line, but it was used as a private road after the tracks were abandoned and then as a storage site.


Narrow gauge locomotives

Number Wheel Arrangement Builder Builder S/N Date Built Disposition by 1909 Notes
1 4-4-0 Baldwin Locomotive Works 3715 1875 Sold before 1894. Originally lettered San Joaquin & Northern #1
2 4-4-0 Baldwin Locomotive Works 3970 1876 Scrapped 1902.
3 4-4-0 Baldwin Locomotive Works 3971 1876 Sold to Colusa & Lake Railroad #4 in 1910. Scrapped after the C&L closed.
4 4-4-0 Baldwin Locomotive Works 4214 1877 Scrapped 1901.
5 4-4-0 Baldwin Locomotive Works 4222 1877 Sold to Lake Tahoe Railway & Transportation Company #5 in 1906. Scrapped 1926.
6 4-4-0 Baldwin Locomotive Works 4223 1877 Moved to the San Bernardino & Redlands Railway in 1906. Moved to the Carson & Colorado #6 in 1917 after electrification of the SB&R. Scrapped 1926.
7 4-4-0 Baldwin Locomotive Works 4224 1877 Renumbered in 1905 to #26.
8 4-4-0 Baldwin Locomotive Works 4225 1877 Scrapped 1898.
9 4-4-0 Baldwin Locomotive Works 4956 1880 Sold in 1908 to Ilwaco Railway & Navigation Company #5. Scrapped 1937.
10 4-4-0 Baldwin Locomotive Works 4960 1880 Sold to Northwestern Pacific #10 Later renumbered NWP#87, scrapped 1917.
11 2-6-0 Baldwin Locomotive Works 5649 1881 Moved to Carson & Colorado #11 Rebuilt in 1924 to a 4-6-0. Scrapped 1934.
12 2-6-0 Baldwin Locomotive Works 5650 1881 Moved to Carson & Colorado #12 Rebuilt in 1924 to a 4-6-0. Scrapped 1934.
13 2-8-0 Baldwin Locomotive Works 6157 1882 Moved to Carson & Colorado #13 sold in 1915 to Lake Tahoe Railway & transportation Company #13. Scrapped 1927.
14 4-4-0 Baldwin Locomotive Works 7249 1884 Sold to Northwestern Pacific #85 Wrecked 1924, rebuilt and renumbered to NWP#93. Scrapped 1935.
15 4-4-0 Baldwin Locomotive Works 7236 1884 Sold to Northwestern Pacific #19 Later renumbered NWP#86, sold to Duncan Mills Land & Lumber Company, scrapped 1926.
16 4-4-0 Baldwin Locomotive Works 7604 1885 Moved to Carson & Colorado #9 Scrapped 1911.
17 4-4-0 Baldwin Locomotive Works 7605 1885 Moved to Carson & Colorado #10 Scrapped 1933.
18 4-6-0 Baldwin Locomotive Works 7939 1886 Moved to Carson & Colorado #14 Retired 1945. Presumed Scrapped.
19 4-6-0 Baldwin Locomotive Works 7941 1886 Moved to Carson & Colorado #16 Scrapped 1935.
20 4-6-0 Baldwin Locomotive Works 8486 1887 Sold to Northwestern Pacific #21 Renumbered #144 then #94. Scrapped 1935.
21 4-6-0 Baldwin Locomotive Works 8487 1887 Moved to Carson & Colorado #17 Retired and dismantled 1945, boiler used until 1952 for heating at the Salem, Oregon, engine terminal when Scrapped.
22 4-6-0 Baldwin Locomotive Works 9929 1889 Moved to Carson & Colorado #15 Scrapped 1935.
23 4-6-0 Baldwin Locomotive Works 11925 1891 Sold in 1907 to Ilwaco Railway & Navigation Company #6 Scrapped 1937.
24 2-6-0 New York Locomotive Works 21 1883 Scrapped 1902. Was Portland & Willamette Valley #2, purchased 1897.
25 2-6-0 New York Locomotive Works 22 1883 Sold in 1907 to La Dicha & Pacific #1. Was Portland & Willamette Valley #3, purchased 1897. Sold in 1915 to Nevada County Narrow Gauge #6, scrapped 1921.
26 4-4-0 Baldwin Locomotive Works 4224 1877 Sold in 1907 to Ilwaco Railway & Navigation Company #3 Was #7, renumbered in 1905. Scrapped 1937.

Ferry service

The first ferry terminal was built on Dumbarton Point in 1876. The Alameda terminal opened on 20 March 1878 for a shorter ferry ride to San Francisco. With two ferries, the company offered hourly trips between Alameda and San Francisco beginning in July 1878. These three side-wheel passenger ferries with vertical beam engines saw service on other routes under Southern Pacific ownership. For more information on the South Pacific Coast Railway's ferry service, click HERE.


Laurel/Glenwood tunnel portal as it appears today.

(Cloudswrest, CC BY-SA 3.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons)


Surviving infrastructure


  • The north–south line from Oakland, California, to San Jose, California, is operated by the Union Pacific Railroad as the Coast Subdivision. Between Newark, California, and San Jose it is used by Amtrak's Capitol Corridor and Coast Starlight trains and the Altamont Corridor Express commuter rail service.
  • The Dumbarton Cutoff connecting Niles and Newark is immediately south of the SPC branch line from Newark to the Fremont Amtrak station in the Centerville District.
  • The line running southwest from San Jose towards the Santa Cruz mountains still exists as far as Vasona Junction, and is operated by the Union Pacific Railroad. The right of way is shared with the southwest end of the VTA light rail Vasona Corridor (now the Green Line, which opened in 2005, operated by the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority between Campbell, California, and San Jose Diridon station.
  • The western end of the Santa Cruz mountain crossing, from Olympia, California, to Santa Cruz, California, is now the Santa Cruz, Big Trees and Pacific Railway, primarily a tourist operation but also carries lumber. Operations include the southernmost (Mission Hill) tunnel.


  • Agnew Depot was used by the Southern Pacific and was purchased by the California Central Model Railroad Club in 1963.
  • San Jose Diridon station is located on the site of the former South Pacific Coast San Jose station.

Right of Way

  • The portion of the Los Gatos Creek Trail that runs from just north of the Lexington Reservoir to just south of downtown Los Gatos runs on the old route.


Headquarters: Newark, California
Reporting mark: SPC
Locale: California's San Francisco Bay Area
Dates of operation: March 29, 1876–July 1, 1887
Successors: South Pacific Coast Railway, Southern Pacific Transportation Company
Track gauge: 4 ft 8+1⁄2 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge after 1909
Previous gauge: 3 ft (914 mm)
Length: 77.5 miles (124.7 km)