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Alameda’s Own Belt Line Railroad

City once owned railroad that served Del Monte, Alaska Packers, Pennzoil

In 1918, the City of Alameda invested some of the profits from its Municipal Lighting Plant in a railroad. The line traveled 1.16 miles along Clement Avenue from Pearl Street to Grand Street. It served the industrial zone the city had recently created on its north shore along the Oakland Estuary.

The railroad’s customers included the Dow Pump & Diesel Engine Company at Oak Street and the newly minted Barnes & Tibbitts Shipyard that stretched along Clement from Chestnut Street to Grand Street.

Alameda Post - Alameda Belt Line locomotive
Baldwin Locomotive Works in Eddystone, Pennsylvania, built Alameda Belt Line’s (ABL) Locomotive #3 in 1911 for the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad, one of ABL’s owners. ABL replaced this locomotive with a Diesel in 1942 and sold Old #3 to California Metals for scrap in 1950. Photo Baldwin Locomotive.

In 1924 the City Council voted to extend the railroad to Sherman Street in order to serve the California Packing Corporation’s Del Monte warehouse and the Alaska Packers Association. On December 15 of that same year, the city sold its railroad to the Western Pacific Railroad (WP) and the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway (ATSF) for $30,000.

Alameda Post - Alameda Belt Line office
Alameda Belt Line building sign. Photo Rick Morgan.

Less than a month later on Jan. 12, 1925, the Alameda Belt Line (ABL) was incorporated by the two companies to take over about 1.2 miles (1.9 km) of trackage constructed by the City of Alameda on Clement Avenue in 1918.

May Walking Tours: The Railroad Town of Alameda

Join Dennis to explore Alameda’s role as a railroad town We’ll cover 2-3 miles, discuss the history of trains in Alameda, and see what’s left of the systems.

Space will be limited, so we recommend signing up now to guarantee your spot if you are interested in attending. Day-of-event tickets may be available for $20 per person, based on available space. Visit AlamedaPost.com/Tours for more information.

ABL acquired the 22-acre belt line on Feb. 17, 1926. WP and ATSF jointly owned the belt line. Due to mergers, it was later jointly owned and operated by the Burlington Northern and Sante Fe Railway and Union Pacific Railroad.

Alameda Post - Alameda Belt Line locomotive c. 1959
Alameda Belt Line locomotive at Alameda Roundhouse, Alameda, California, Dec. 2, 1959. Photo AlamedaInfo.com

The new owners incorporated ABL. By the end of 1928, ABL had added 5.6 miles of tracks, including those in the railroad yard, today’s Jean Sweeney Open Space Park.

Alameda Post - 20th Century Alameda Railroads and Streetcars map

ABL served Alameda’s north shore for 70 years, closing in 1998. The Union Pacific Railroad ran its trains along Clement Avenue for two more years to accommodate Pennzoil-Quaker State.

Alameda Post - Alameda Belt Line locomotive c.1980
Alameda Belt Line’s S-2 #105 works late into the night circa 1980. She paused long enough for a time exposure as a switch was being thrown. Note the trail left by the switchman’s hand-lantern on the left of the photo. Photo Soda Gomi.

In 2003, Jean Sweeney discovered a contract that required the railroad to sell the ABL property back to the city for 1924 prices, plus improvements. After winning a court fight, the city purchased the property that includes the rail yard — today’s Jean Sweeney Open Space — for $966,207.

Dennis Evanosky is an award-winning East Bay historian and the Editor of the Alameda Post. His grandfather worked as a fireman tending the boilers on locomotives for the Erie Lackawanna Railroad in Pennsylvania. Dennis carried on the tradition, He once worked as Gandy dancer (a track-hand) for the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad in Maryland. Reach him at [email protected]. His writing is collected at AlamedaPost.com/Dennis-Evanosky.

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July, 2022 – Alameda’s Innovative Streetcars​

Saturday July 9 — Alameda’s Horsecar Lines

Join Dennis Evanosky for an imaginary ride on two of Theodore Meetz's three horsecar lines and a visit to Fassking’s Hotel. Meet at Union Street and Santa Clara Avenue. at 10 a.m.
Tickets available
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