California Pacific Railroad

California Pacific Railroad
Locale Vallejo - Sacramento - Napa - Calistoga - Davis - Marysville
Dates of operation 1865–1876
Successor Southern Pacific Railroad
Track gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) (standard gauge)
Headquarters San Francisco, California

The California Pacific Railroad Company was incorporated in 1865 at San Francisco, California as the California Pacific Rail Road Company. It was renamed the California Pacific Railroad Extension Company in the spring of 1869, then renamed the California Pacific Railroad later that same year. The railroad was constructed just months prior to the completion of the Central Pacific/Union Pacific Transcontinental Railway.

The railroad ran from Sacramento to Vallejo and thence via passenger ferryboat to San Francisco. It also had a branch from Adelante (later Napa Junction, now American Canyon) to Calistoga and another from Davis to Marysville.

The Cal-P operated independently from 1865 to 1876. It was then operated by the Central Pacific and was finally sold to the Southern Pacific.

Amtrak's Capitol Corridor follows the original Cal-P Line from Sacramento to Suisun/Fairfield on its way to Oakland and San Jose.


A shorter transcontinental route

While the transcontintal railroad was the first railway line to cross the U.S., it wasn't truly a transcontinental line because it terminated at Sacramento, short of the Pacific destination of San Francisco.

The first truly transcontinental railroad was through Stockton, over Altamont Pass and thence via Niles Canyon to the San Francisco Bay Area, a distance of 140 miles (230 km). That line was constructed by Leland Stanford's Central Pacific Railroad subsidiary the Western Pacific Railroad (of 1862). The route over Altamont Pass was completed in 1869. (This railroad is unrelated to the Western Pacific Railroad (of 1916) that ran to Salt Lake City via the Feather River Canyon.)

The other route via Stockton, to Banta, thence to Martinez to Oakland was 151 miles (243 km).

The Central Pacific was searching for a shorter route to the Bay Area; the recently completed (1868) California Pacific was the basis for a route of about 90 miles (140 km).

In July 1871 the Central Pacific offered to buy the Cal-P but their offer was rejected. Central Pacific announced plans to build a parallel route of the Cal-P but diverging at Suisun via the Suisun Marsh to Benicia. The California Pacific, facing financial and expansion difficulties, finally was sold to the Central Pacific in 1876.

The Central Pacific shifted traffic from its mainline via Napa Junction to Vallejo in favor of a line across the Suisun Marsh to Benicia. The Central Pacific began construction in 1877 and completed the line across the Suisun Marsh to Benicia (17 miles) in 1879. The 17 miles (27 km) of track took so long to build because of the unstable subgrade through the marsh, requiring tons of crushed rock to stabilize the subgrade. A railroad ferry was established between Benicia and Port Costa.

Historical timeline

Vallejo - Sacramento line

The California Pacific commenced construction at South Vallejo (west of the Carquinez Bridge). Grading began on Christmas Eve, 1866 and rails began to be laid on April 10, 1868. The railroad was built by D.C. Haskin. Two months after grading began the track was completed from Vallejo via Napa Junction and Jameson Pass to Suisun on June 24,1868. The original route of the Cal-P mainline from Suisun to Vallejo is now the route of the California Northern Railroad between Vallejo and Suisun and can be seen along portions of State Route 12.

The original Cal-P line ran to Vallejo, not along the present main line route through the Suisun Marsh between Suisun – Benicia – Martinez.

  • January 3, 1865 California Pacific Rail Road Company is incorporated.
  • January 10, 1865 absorbs the Sacramento & San Francisco Rail Road Company and the San Francisco & Marysville Rail Road Company.
  • December 24, 1866 commenced grading from Vallejo towards Suisun then Davisville (Davis).
  • April 10, 1868 commenced laying of rails.
  • June 24, 1868 construction completed Vallejo - Suisun (via Napa Junction).
  • July 27, 1868 construction completed Suisun - Elmira.
  • August 10, 1868 construction completed Elmira - Dixon.
  • August 24, 1868 construction completed Dixon - Davisville (Davis)
  • November 15, 1868 construction completed Davisville (Davis) - Washington, California
  • April 14, 1869 renamed the California Pacific Railroad Extension Company.
  • June 9, 1869 acquires under foreclosure the Napa Valley Rail Road Company which was originally founded and developed by Samuel Brannan
  • December 23, 1869 renamed the California Pacific Railroad Company.
  • January 15, 1870 construction completed Washington, California - Sacramento and railroad ceases to be operated by builder, D.C. Haskin. Operation by California Pacific begins.
  • July 1871 Central Pacific offer to buy railroad but offer is rejected. Central Pacific announces plan to build a line paralleling Cal-P but crossing the Carquinez Strait at Benicia instead of at Vallejo (Cal-P's route).
  • December, 1871 flooding damages track between Knight's Landing and Yuba City/Marysville, placing line out of service and causing railroad financial hardship.
  • June 30, 1876 the railroad, facing financial difficulties caused by the flooding of December 1871, is sold to the Central Pacific Railroad but continues to be listed as California Pacific.
  • May 14, 1877 damaged and abandoned track is removed between Knight's Landing and Yuba City.
  • December 6, 1879 Central Pacific completes 17-mile (27 km) line from Suisun - Benicia and the trial run of the ferry across the Carquinez Strait (1.08 miles) between Benicia and Port Costa begins.
  • April 1, 1885 the railroad was leased to and operated by the Southern Pacific Railroad. SP also acquires the Northern Railway, a subsidiary paper railroad of the SP.
  • 1888 listed in ICC reports as a non-operating subsidiary of Southern Pacific Railroad.
  • April 14, 1898 the railroad is sold to the Southern Pacific Railroad.

The Southern Pacific line between Martinez and Sacramento (or perhaps Oakland and Sacramento) was informally known as the “Cal-P” after the original builder of the line, the California Pacific Railroad.

Other Cal-P lines

Napa Valley Railroad

California Pacific purchased the Napa Valley Rail Road at foreclosure on June 9, 1869.

The Napa Valley Rail Road was built from the head of navigation on the Napa River, Soscol, near Skaggs Island, to Napa, St. Helena, and Calistoga. It was backed by a group headed by Samuel Brannan, a Calistoga resort owner. The track from Soscol to Napa was completed on July 11, 1865. The NVRR reached Oakville on September 15, 1867, St. Helena on February 27, 1868, and Calistoga on July 31, 1868. After the Cal-P built through the lower Napa Valley to Vallejo, the NVRR built a connection south to the Cal-P at Adelante in January, 1869. The California Pacific purchased the NVRR in June 1869 when the NVRR was sold under foreclosure. After purchasing the Cal-P, the Southern Pacific operated passenger service to Calistoga until 1929. In the 1980s, as freight service declined, the track beyond St. Helena was abandoned. In 1987 the track from Napa to St. Helena was sold to the new Napa Valley Railroad for operation of the Napa Valley Wine Train.[1]

Cal-P line from Davis - Marysville

The Cal-P also built a line from Davisville (Davis) to Yuba City/Marysville. The track was completed from Davisville – Knight’s Landing on September 23, 1869. The line reached Yuba City on November 22, 1869, and Marysville on February 15, 1870. However, in December 1871 there was severe flooding in the Yolo Bypass causing damage to the line between Knight’s Landing and Yuba City. That portion of the line was abandoned and track removal commenced on May 14, 1877.

The line from Davis to Woodland was later operated by the Southern Pacific and currently by the California Northern Railroad.



  • Robertson, Donald B. (1998). Encyclopedia of Western Railroad History - Volume IV - California. Caldwell, Idaho: The Caxton Printers. pp. 90–92. ISBN 0-87004-385-4. 
  • "Solano: The Way it Was; Benicia-Martinez Bridge Makes History" [1] by Jerry Bowen, The Reporter (Vacaville, California), March 4, 2001, retrieved November 14, 2005.

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