Rail History
Produced by Mike Sanford


The sun hasn't even come up as sleepy commuters trudge toward the Sacramento Amtrak station, to board trains departing as early as 4:25 a.m. Their destination: the Bay Area, with its promise of better-paying jobs. This four-hour roundtrip may seem daunting, but the Capitol Corridor is one of the fastest-growing intercity rail lines in the U.S. Ridership has grown in double digits every year since the mid-90s.

The Valley's love affair with rail travel began in the 1850s, when a dreamer named Theodore Judah built the Sacramento Valley Railroad, the first rail line west of the Mississippi. But this modest line from Sacramento to Folsom was just the beginning. Judah had a grander scheme: he'd found a route that could span the continent on a ribbon of steel.

May 10th, 1869. The Central Pacific joined the Union Pacific at Promontory Point, Utah. It was an achievement that transformed the nation, the state, and the Valley, as settlers rushed west to create new railroad towns. The invention of the refrigerated freight car in the 1870s allowed produce and other goods to be shipped both east and west, and Valley agriculture found a national market.

Valley railroading peaked in the 1920s, when Sacramento received 32 passenger trains a day. But the 20th Century brought change in the way Americans traveled. By the 1960s, passenger train travel was declining dying. Congress saved the system in 1971 when it voted to create and fund a private rail company called Amtrak. But it has struggled ever since to meet its mandated goals for revenue and eventual self-sufficiency.

Still, there are hopeful signs. Trains like the Capitol Corridor underscore a growing need and appreciation for passenger rail. Thirty trains now pass through Sacramento each day -- only two less than the glory days of the 1920s.


Stephen Drew
CA State Railroad Museum


The complete text of New Valley Episode 201 - Planes, Trains, and the Shipping News...


Wells Fargo Del Webb Great Valley Center

Copyright 1996-2004, KVIE Inc.   Privacy Policy
New Valley Official Site