SNR crossing Thornhill at Moraga
photo from Pacific Rail News 1

The Sacramento Northern Railway (SNR) was an electric interurban railroad that ran between Oakland and Chico. It handled both passengers and freight, and ran over Lake Temescal and through Montclair Village. Between 1939–41, its passenger trains went all the way to San Francisco via the Bay Bridge, ending at the Transbay Terminal.


The SNR was originally two separate railroads, with the Oakland, Antioch, and Eastern Railway starting service from Oakland to Sacramento in 1913. In 1928, the Northern Electric Railway (Chico to Sacramento) and the Oakland, Antioch, and Eastern Railway (Oakland to Sacramento) were joined at Sacramento to form the Sacramento Northern Railway.

The SNRʼs yard and machine shop (where Gene’s grandfather worked) lay at the end of its right-of-way, at 40th and Shafter (2016 site of “Homeroom”). There, trains connected to Key System tracks along 40th, leading to the Key System Mole, and later across the Bay Bridge. North of its yard, the railroad ran up Shafter Avenue, crossed College Avenue, and climbed up to Lake Temescal, where it ran along the eastern shore, and crossed a former extension of the lake. It ran through Montclair Village and up Shepherd Canyon. The Havens Station (named for developer Frank C. Havens) was near Paso Robles, and then the train entered a 3200′ tunnel [or 3600′ or 3700′] near Park Boulevard (later renamed Shepherd Canyon Road) and Saroni. It exited the tunnel in Contra Costa county, near Pinehurst Road and Huckleberry Botanic Regional Reserve where the Eastport Station was. From there, it ran near the town of Canyon, thence to Moraga (there was a station near Saint Mary’s College) and Lafayette.

Conspiracy theorists will note that GM, Firestone, Standard Oil and other companies really did conspire to “do in” electric streetcars and interurban railways around the U.S. But the Sacramento Northern also faced increasing competition from shorter, less steep railroad routes, 3 as well as changes in businesses that were formerly customers of its freight service.

The railroad included passenger service until 1940, while freight service ended in the 1960s. The SNR ceased running from Oakland to Lafayette in 1957, when its rails and overhead wires were removed and the tunnel sealed. The last remnants of the Sacramento Northern were officially folded into the Union Pacific in 1983.

shops at 40th and Shafter 1trestle over Lake Temescal being constructed1939 route map 1

Train 603 running on the 5400 block of Shafter Avenue5Train 604 running at the intersection of Shafter Avenue and Forest Street, with former Chimes Theater (now Market Hall) visible in background.5




OA&E postcard circa 1910
"The Comet" passing through Redwood Canyon
(found on eBay)
Reverse side of OA&E 1910 postcard1917 OA&E Route Map 4

Present-Day Remnants

A number of remnants survive in todayʼs Oakland.

  • The Montclair Railroad Trail follows the right-of-way from behind Montclair Village up along Shepherd Canyon to Saroni Drive; quite prominent is the “Melin Cut”, where the right-of-way curves into Shepherd Canyon.
  • Several interpretive panels along the trail tell of the Sacramento Northern Railway, the never-built Highway 77, and other pieces of local history. There is also an interpretive panel about the trains at Lake Temescal. These were placed as an Eagle Scout project by Daniel Levy.
  • Near Montclair Park are a pair of large concrete abutments, once part of a bridge where the train crossed Mountain Boulevard. Not far away is the “Short Line Pocket Park” which marks one end of a bridge where the train crossed Thornhill.
  • In 1994, developers filled in part of the ravine approaching the Redwood Peak tunnel (reportedly part of the tunnel portal had been visible from the yard of one of the houses). This changed the local drainage, and at least one house over the tunnel subsided and had to be removed. 2
  • Some of the Sacramento Northernʼs rolling stock and other items are preserved at the Western Railway Museum in Suisun City.

interpretive sign on the railroad trail
CC SA-BY Our Oakland
SN bridge abutments
CC SA-BY Our Oakland
boxcar at Western Railway Museum
CC SA-BY Our Oakland
freight locomotive #652 at WRM
CC SA-BY Our Oakland
passenger car+engine “Comet”
CC SA-BY Our Oakland

yard at 40th and Shafter, from 1950 Sanborn map

Links and References

  1. Sacramento Northern at Daniel Levy’s OB&E website
  2. Sacramento Northern Railway on Wikipedia
  3. Oakland Urban Paths: Montclair walk
  4. Oakland, Antioch & Eastern Railway on Cowell Historical Society website
  5. Personal photos provided by long-time resident of the 5400 block of Shafter Avenue.