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March 21, 2006 > Golden Spike III

Golden Spike III

by John Fisher

One hundred and thirty-six years is a long time to wait for a sequel and for history to repeat itself. On May 10, 1869 at Promontory Summit, Utah, a golden spike was driven into a wooden trestle and the trans-continental railroad was "officially" declared completed. Telegraph lines flashed the word "done" and the news went nationwide; the first national media event.

As with many repeated "facts" there were a few errors. It was widely reported that the event took place at Promontory Point rather than the actual site of Promontory Summit. Local historians have been quick to point out that the trans-continental railroad wasn't actually finished until four months later until the tracks from Sacramento to San Francisco Bay were opened. The tracks went through Niles Canyon. Until a railroad bridge was built across the Missouri River in 1872 a coast to coast ride wasn't actually possible.

Nonetheless, a Golden Spike III ceremony is planned for Sunday, April 9 to commemorate the renewing of passenger service from Niles to Sunol. The train will be in operation from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., but ceremonies will be at 11:15 a.m. to 11:45 a.m. The Pacific Locomotive Association will provide a steam locomotive and passenger service. There will be a golden spike driving, ribbon cutting and speeches.

If you missed the first Golden Spike ceremony, (and we all did!) here's an opportunity to participate in history being made.

The Niles Canyon Railway has been providing excursion service from Sunol to Niles and back for a number of years. Last year, during the holiday season, the brightly decorated Train of Lights was sold out, carrying 15,000 passengers. Spring is the season for Wildflower train rides and wine tasting on the rails. Now that passengers can board at either Sunol or Niles, ridership will undoubtedly increase.

It is my opinion that Niles Canyon is one of the most scenic in California. Ride the train for the view, enjoy it without the distraction of driving. Ride the train for the history. You can see the original square telegraph poles, stone cut bridge abutments and retaining walls. Or view Joaquin Murrietta's Rancho site.

I boarded the train in Niles on February 19 and again on March 5 for the shake-down, pre-ceremony excursions (more are scheduled on April 2). One trip wasn't enough. I've ridden skunk trains, excursion variety from Alabama to California. One of the best things about the Niles Canyon Railway is, it's in our backyard.

What else? The dining car had fresh flowers on each table. Enjoy some refreshments, good company and conversation, look out the window and relax. I did. There is a rolling post office car that has a coal burning stove and mail equipment. The caboose can be rented for private events. I know of at least one wedding that took place there. If you are interested in using the caboose, plan ahead, at least three months in advance. There was a birthday party going on (privately) in one of the other cars.

Historic trains are one of the few parts of Americana that you can actively participate in and enjoy. The Pacific Locomotive Association has over 700 members. Every time I've been on board, those men and women, acting as conductor, brakeman, engineer, porter, etc. have been courteous, friendly and knowledgeable. They are also dressed in the historic costumes that present a sense of authenticity. Look carefully at your ticket. The back is a scaled reproduction of an actual ticket sold on Dec. 8, 1900 from the Sunol Depot.

If they were available I would purchase a season pass. I could see riding the train the entire afternoon, relaxing, enjoying... making history.

Riders who board in Niles are encouraged to park in one of the two downtown parking lots on Niles Blvd., and from there either walk through Sullivan Underpass to the boarding area, or catch the Niles Coach Lines bus at one of two bus stops located downtown near the town parking lots.

The trains will be offering departures and arrivals in both towns on most Sundays throughout the year. Niles roundtrip trains depart at 11:10 a.m., 12:40 p.m. and 2:10 p.m. (a one-way trip departs at 3:40 p.m.). For more information and a complete schedule including Sunol departures, please visit or or call (925) 862-9063

Niles Canyon Railway Golden Spike Ceremony
Sunday, April 9
11:15 a.m. - 11:45 a.m.

Niles Canyon Railway 2006 Operating Days
April 2, 9, 16, 23, 30
May 7, 14, 21, 28
June 4, 11, 18, 25
July 2, 9, 16, 23, 30
Aug. 6, 13, 20, 27
Sept. 3, 10, 17, 24
October 1, 15
November 5
December -
(No daytime trains)

Suggested donation:
Infants through age 2 ride free
$5 for children age 3 - 12
$8 for seniors
$10 for everyone else

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