The Niles Western Railroad was founded before the turn of the century. With the success of the nearby South Pacific Coast, a local business man named Jebidia Niles convinced some of his friends to invest in a new railroad that would connect the East Bay to Stockton. The route they chose was to follow Alameda Creek through the east bay hills into the Livermore valley and climb over Altamont Pass to reach the Central Valley and Stockton.  

After a period of financial struggles, track laying began in 1883. Within a year, construction had reached the community of Centerville, and the construction gangs began to attack the steep canyon walls. By 1884 they had reached the Livermore valley. In the meantime, construction crews pushed from Stockton toward the Altamont Pass. 

The line connecting Oakland and Stockton was completed in 1886. The Niles Western generated a lot of business initially -- carrying goods to the Central Valley and fruit and vegetables to the Bay Area. Competition from the Central Pacific, Southern Pacific, and Western Pacific put a strain on financial returns. The only way to survive was to become a transcontinental railroad. Planning began on pushing a route eastward through the Sierras with the goal of reaching Denver. 

The route chosen through the Sierras took the line south of Lake Tahoe. It was a high rugged pass that led to steep grades and sharp curves. Several bridges were needed to cross the various rivers and streams -- putting quite a challenge to the engineering department. 

As construction pushed down the eastern side of the mountains, funds began drying up. With reports of financial difficulties and construction delays, finding more investors became increasingly difficult. It became obvious that laying a new transcontinental line from Nevada all the way across the Rockies was just not feasible. With time running out on their funding, a last ditch effort put them in possession of a narrow gauge railroad that gave them a rail connection with the main CP line east of Reno NV. They broad gauged the acquired line and completed the trans-Sierra route in 1890. With the CP (later the SP) connection, they were able to provide a competitive connection between the east and Northern California markets. 

A later alliance with the Western Pacific provided access to the Northwest and markets in Northern California. A number of smaller railroads were acquired in the Nevada and Utah areas. Growth during the early 1900s was strong with many acquisitions and operating agreements with other lines. The depression hit hard but the Niles Western survived. 

Since the war, the Niles Western has flourished. With its numerous connections and joint agreements with other rail lines, the Western Division carries a great deal of interchange traffic. It serves as one of the major gateways to eastern markets for Central Valley agriculture and Bay Area industry.

 

A Trip Along the Niles Western

(Western Division)

Located along the east side of the San Francisco Bay, Alpha is an industrial city featuring refineries, factories and manufacturing. The many industries rely on the Niles Western to transport raw materials in and move out processed and finished goods. Alpha's downtown area resembles Niles, Centerville, and Irvington, although the outer regions resemble the industrial areas of Newark and Union City. In addition to the Niles Western, a traction line, Mission Electric, serves the area. Mission Electric, much like the Sacramento Northern, provides freight and passenger service. Alpha is where the Niles Western connects with its Coast Division and interchanges with the Western Pacific. The Southern Pacific is nearby and it's equipment is often seen in the area.
 
 
Traveling East from Alpha, we pass through low foothills and scenery similar to Pleasanton and Martinez. The hills are a little greener here and, at the high bridge, we can catch a glimpse of the Coast Range and the Golden Gate Bridge.

As the way down the grade is worked, we enter the outskirts of Bravo. This town is comparable to Vacaville, Tracy or Watsonville. There is some industry here but agriculture is prime. The commodities include grain, cattle, fruit, vegetables and fertilizer. Numbered among the industries are a growers cooperative, a dairy, packing sheds, stock pens and a gravel quarry. Mission Electric also interchanges with the Niles Western in Bravo.

The Grade begins to rise upon crossing the San Joaquin River. We pass through more agricultural land before entering the big classification yard at Charlie. This is the location of the Niles Western division point and its connection with the Southern Pacific as well as a small branch line. In many respects, it is not unlike Resole or San Luis Obispo. This is where the railroad takes care of business. Car shops, engine facilities for steam and diesel, a roundhouse, and yard offices are evident. Charlie supports many other industries such as a grain elevator, factories, and manufacturing. A view of the snow capped Sierra Nevada Mountains can be seen in the distance.

As we leave the division point, we notice an increase in grade. The scenery is lightly wooded with pines and oaks. This continues until we reach the town of Delta, which is much like Redding Oroville, or Portola. The tracks go practically through the downtown, which looks like it hasn't changed in years. In addition to the lumber mills, we notice packing sheds for the nearby orchards, various mining operations, some small warehouses, a small brewery and a cement plant.

Continuing Eastward, the mountains appear nearer and the grade steepens. This is obviously a helper district. The mainline is climbing through some pretty rugged country. There are more than a few tunnels here and portions of the right of way have been blasted out of the granite rock. Instead of streams, the bridges now span gorges with good fishing. Tall conifers tower above the tracks and lumber is the major product of the region.
 
 
Entering the next town, Elvas, we discover a community like Truckee, Dunsmuir, or McCloud. Elvas began as a company town for the railroad's logging interests and much of that character still remains. Lumber continues to be the major industry but a few others have developed. The railroad still maintains service facilities for helper locomotives. The snow capped rock peaks loom over the town and act as a constant reminder of the towns rugged past and the railroad's hard climb to Summit.

Summit marks the highest point on the Niles Western. The mainline emerges from the snow sheds and continues through the groves of spruce trees and snow drifts that line the tracks at this higher elevation. The railroad maintains a long passing track and snowplow facilities at Summit, but there is little else here. Next the grade descends into Nevada.

At the bottom of the grade is the desert town of Foxtrot. The short line connects to the Northwestern Pacific here. The short line serves several mines and therefor loaded ore cars make up the majority of the cars interchanged. Some cars of various types are also interchanged for the few industries and communities that the short line serves. There are engine facilities here for locomotives that serve as helpers for the trains climbing the grade and for the switchers that serve the local industries.

Just beyond Foxtrot is the railroad's connection with its Desert and Northern Divisions and its connections with the Union Pacific and other roads to the east.

 

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The Niles Western