Benicia, a Railroad Town
Benicia’s Railroad Era
The history of the railroad in Benicia started in 1851, just five years after the first settlement of the town, when the two communities of Benicia and Marysville started their railroad dreams with surveying done in 1852. That was the beginning, and end, of that line until the late 1850’s when the “San Francisco and Sacramento Railroad” made its appearance. The next venture was in 1873 with a narrow gauge line proposed between Red Bluff and Benicia.
At about the same time the Central Pacific was looking for a shorter route to the Bay Area to eliminate the climb over the hills of Altamont on the Stockton route and Creston on the Vallejo route. Surveys were made and construction started on the new water level route between Suisun and Benicia. This line was completed on April 16, 1879, with through service to Oakland instituted on December 28th via the train ferry, Solano. For over 50 years, Benicia was on the main line north and east from San Francisco for all rail traffic.
As an illustration of the volume of traffic through Benicia, the following excerpt is taken from Southern Pacific records: “Between the hours of 5:00 AM, June 26th and 5:00 AM, June 2nd in 1920, the yard and boat crews handled a total of forty-nine ( 49) passenger trains consisting of 468 cars, on the ferry Solano, an average of a train every 26 minutes” Quite a feat when you add on the number of freight trains that must have been movmg. After the Southern Pacific bridge from Benicia to Martinez was built in 1930, the rails in Benicia went only to the First Street Depot to serve a few industries such as the canneries, warehouses and the Yuba Manufacturing Company.
Michael J Hayes,
Historian Benicia Historical Society
Solano Train Ferryboat Digital Exhibit
Digital exhibit about the Solano Train Ferry by Leann Taagepera
Townspeople of Benicia and many others packed the train ferry for one final, farewell ride. Passengers of the last trip even included a United States Senator and the President of the Central Pacific Railroad.
“The train on board had sixteen coaches, to which three were added in Benicia. It was crowded with passengers.” (Benicia Herald – New Era, 11/6/1930)
See full digital exhibit at the following link: Solano Train Ferry
This digital exhibit is also found on the website of the California State Railroad Museum
This digital exhibit was created by Benicia resident Leann S. Taagepera, a graduate student in Sonoma State University’s M.A. in Cultural Resources Management program, as a student in Sacramento State University’s Special Topic Public History class in Fall semester 2021.
The Roundhouse Crosstalk podcast interviews Leann S. Taagepera a student in the California State University Sonoma Cultural Resources Management Program about the Solano Train Ferry and its unique place in local and regional history.