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Arrival of the Railroad

Information taken from San Ramon Branch Line of the Southern Pacific by Irma M. Dotson. 

From 1891 - 1978

America's Golden Age of Railroads began in the late nineteenth century. California's first railroad was built in Sacramento in 1856 and the transcontinental line was completed when the "Golden Spike" was driven in 1869. This led to rail lines being constructed throughout the Bay Area.

The San Ramon Branch Line railroad opened in 1891 after much dreaming, lobbying and planning for rail service by local citizens. They knew train service would allow freight and passengers to be transported in winter rainy seasons when County roads were impassable. After Danville Grange No. 85 was organized in 1873, members were involved in several efforts to bring a railroad to the valley.

Early in 1890 a young entrepreneur, William Kye, grandly announced plans for a new transcontinental railroad that would go through Alamo, Danville and San Ramon. Kye said he was willing to pay for the right-of-way land and his crew proceeded to survey the valley.

This activity rekindled the interest of the Southern Pacific Railroad (which had done an 1887 survey) and meetings with landowners began in May of 1890. However, the Southern Pacific would not pay for the right-of-way. More meetings were held. Some landowners were willing to donate land, other were not. In the meantime Kye disappeared, leaving the field to SP.

San Ramon railroad crossing
San Ramon railroad crossing

A core committee of farmers, including August Hemme of Alamo, R. O. Baldwin of Danville, Charles Wood of Sycamore Valley and George McCamley of San Ramon, was determined that this time a railroad would be built. They and others helped raise $15,000 to purchase the right-of-way from reluctant owners; the rest was donated.

Grading of the route began late in 1890; early in 1891 tracks were laid and the Branch Line was completed. The line extended from San Ramon to Avon (3 miles east of Martinez) for 20 miles where it connected with the Oakland/Stockton line. The first regular trip took place on June 7, 1891. In 1909, SP extended the line to Radum (near Pleasanton) where it connected to the Oakland/Tracy line.


Photographs, courtesy of the Bancroft Library and Museum archives
A publication of the Museum of the San Ramon Valley, 2001.