When El Cerrito watched the final run of the Santa Fe Railroad through town in 1979

morning local

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Traffic is heavy weekdays on Marin Avenue from the Berkeley hills through Albany.
But imagine if you had to wait behind the crossing signal while a freight train passed.
Motorists had to do just that until May 1979, when the Santa Fe Railroad abandoned its inland right-of-way from Oakland to Richmond. Locally, it follows the route the BART tracks follow now through Albany and El Cerrito.
Trains had been hauling on the route since the original tracks were laid in the late 19th century by the California and Nevada Railroad.
In fact, the Santa Fe continued to run for several years after the Richmond line of the BART system opened. That’s right, folks living right next to the Richmond BART line heard the noise of the new trains overhead and also the passing of two ground level diesel-powered trains each day.
But by the 1970s, it was no longer practical for Santa Fe to maintain the line. Trains came through only twice a day, by then, a far cry from the years when the tracks were busy with trains full of passengers and freight. In El Cerrito alone, trains would stop at the TEPCO factory and the city’s many lumberyards. The volume during World War II, when tons of supplies were headed to Richmond and military personnel filled passenger trains, would have been staggering.
The Santa Fe line crossed 87 intersections between Oakland and Richmond, bringing the flow of cars to a halt as it went and meeting with numerous accidents at intersections.
Cities welcomed the railroad’s decision to abandon the line, first requested in 1976 and run its trains on the Southern Pacific tracks along the waterfront, where there were far fewer traffic conflicts — and liabilities from entanglements with motorists — along the way.
Not everyone was pleased, though.
During the line’s final years folks along the line had gotten to know engineer Art Pipes (pictured at the top on the final run of the Santa Fe through El Cerrito. Pipes was a 42-year Santa Fe veteran who had made many friends on the line who would wave as the train passed and was known as a gift-giving Santa Claus to some households in Richmond. You can read about him in the 1979 Richmond Independent article below.
On the day of the final run the train made a special stop in El Cerrito, where a fond farewell was held (see below).
El Cerrito resident and businessman John Stashik, who was there for the final run of Pipes and the Santa Fe was generous enough to share the clippings and photos here.

ATSF Santa Claus retires
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Message from CH
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art and crew_caption
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The lumberyards and other businesses such as the TEPCO porcelain factory were served by the Santa Fe rail line that ran on the route now used by BART. This view is looking where the Del Norte station is today.

Chris Treadway

  • I still have the etched plate that Art gave to me (and all his regular “wavers”) one Christmas.

    It’s true that I bought my home here when I saw it was across the street from the Santa Fe Railway. That clinched the deal.

  • It was a sad day indeed. I was also there and the photos above looked very familiar. I took the same as well. I had been shooting the local for a few years. When they arrived Oakland the next trip it was on the SP via trackage rights. They entered the SP at Stege and traveled to 34th St where they re-entered their yard at Wood St.
    I miss that local.