Railroads first came to what is today Fremont in 1865 when three separate companies raced to lay the first track through Niles Canyon, attempting to connect the Bay Area with Sacramento.

One of these was named the Western Pacific Railroad (not to be confused with the 1900-era railroad of the same name). The Western Pacific reached Niles Canyon first, as it constructed its line from San Jose; through what are now Milpitas, Irvington, and Niles towards Stockton. Construction of the first rail line through Niles Canyon began in early 1865 when a force of five hundred Chinese laborers started work on grading a roadbed. Its builders hoped they would soon be part of, and perhaps even control, a larger transcontinental railroad.

Two other railroad companies had similar hopes. The San Francisco & Alameda, and the San Francisco & Oakland started railroad construction projects in the East Bay, also surveying routes in a southerly direction towards Niles. But by 1869, short line railroads had little chance of challenging the Central Pacific - the railroad that Leland Stanford and associates Crocker, Huntington, and Hopkins were aggressively pushing over the Sierra Nevada Mountains towards a transcontinental connection. All three, including the unfinished Western Pacific, were absorbed into the growing Central Pacific system. As the Central pacific neared completion at the famous "gold spike" ceremony at Promontory, Utah on May 10, 1869, Stanford resumed work on the connection between Sacramento and the Bay Area. Construction in Niles Canyon began again in the summer of 1869, and by September, Central Pacific construction crews finished the link. A "last spike", this time iron, not gold, was driven somewhere near Niles.

For the next ten years, the track through Niles Canyon would be part of the transcontinental mainline, until replaced by a more direct route via Benicia and Port Costa, with ferry service to carry the trains across the Carquinez Straight. By 1880, the three ancestor railroads had lost their independent identity becoming small, indistinguishable parts of the giant Southern Pacific system.

The Niles Canyon Railway today operates trains over much of the original 1869 route of the Western Pacific through Niles Canyon. Some of the stone bridge abutments still in use in Niles Canyon were built by the original Western Pacific Railroad, although the wood truss members of the original bridges have long been replaced by steel.

It was actually a "paper" subsidiary of the Southern Pacific, the Central California Railway, that provided a "railroad corporate name" for the construction of the Dumbarton Bridge and the 16 miles of rail line between Redwood Junction on the San Francisco Peninsula - through Newark and Centerville - to Niles Junction. The Southern Pacific incorporated the Central California Railway Company in October of 1904 to construct the new line. Upon the completion of construction in 1909, the Southern Pacific initially leased and then folded the Central California Railway into the Central Pacific Railway in February of 1912. By then, even the Central Pacific had long been a railroad on paper only - existing under the giant umbrella of Southern Pacific.

Although the Central California Railway was a "paper" railway in that it never owned a locomotive or car, nor was the name on any ticket or timetable, the Central California Railway's existence represents one example of the "accounting and legal entities" that Southern Pacific's owners and lawyers set up "to build a railroad". In effect, these "paper" railroads simply kept a new railroad line off the parent's operating accounts until it was finished and ready to be turned over to the operating department. Like many other "paper" railroads established by Southern Pacific to extend its rail lines, the memory of the Central California Railway is preserved through the state of California's historical archives of companies incorporated in California.

Ancestor Railroads

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