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April 15, 2009 > Choo-choo - All aboard!

Choo-choo - All aboard!

By Meenu Gupta

One of the best ways to enjoy scenic Niles Canyon is on a relaxing vintage train ride which travels the eight miles between Niles and Sunol every Sunday. However, a surprise is waiting for those looking to make this trip with a bit more spice!

A rare alternative is being offered on Saturday, April 18, when passengers can take historic speeder rides. Proceeds will support Niles Canyon Railway, which provides historic train ride experiences between the 1880s depot in Sunol and Niles Station.

"Speeder rides are seldom offered to the public," noted Al McCracken, station agent for Niles Canyon Railway. "Last year we offered it only once all year. This is not museum equipment, and speeders are privately owned."

In the 1980s, speeders, or motorcars, transported railroad crews on the tracks for inspection and repair. Later on they were replaced by hi-rails - pickup trucks with rail wheels that travel on both roads and rails.

For $25 ($15 for children), enjoy the enthralling roundtrip experience, which is especially beautiful this time of year. Reservations are highly recommended, as speeder rides sell out each year. Plan to show up at least 15 minutes before departure. Children must be at least 5 years old. A signed waiver, long pants, and closed-toe shoes are required.

"Speeders are a lot of fun to ride," said Patrice Warren, volunteer and member of the Pacific Locomotive Association. The association operates Niles Canyon Railway to preserve a living history of Pacific Coast railroading from 1910 to 1960. Educational programs, community events, railroad artifacts, and exhibits at the Sunol Depot inform people about railroad's development over the years.

Education trains are offered to school groups every Thursday in May. A docent on board the 70-minute ride explains "that we are the only museum offering rides on the original route of the original transcontinental railroad completed in 1869," McCracken said.

"An extension of the education trains is that we offer a version of this in the summer and are not restricted to school groups," he added. "On July 9 and 16, August 6 and 13, we offer the train rides to youth groups and the public."

"Every Sunday in June and September we have model trains for the kids to operate, and then they can ride the big train," McCracken said.

He added, "We are all volunteers." Pacific Locomotive Association volunteers worked hard to rebuild the line between Sunol and Niles so the public could enjoy rides and share America's railroad heritage.

Members help restore equipment, build track, operate trains, and perform other tasks necessary to run a railroad. No experience is necessary. Anyone interested in volunteering can call McCracken at (408) 249-2953.

"Minors may apply, but they need their parents' consent. Adults, especially seniors, are welcome," he continued.

So is financial support. Those who donate $36 or more per year receive a subscription to The Club Car monthly newsletter to stay informed of association activities. They also get invited to special events and excursions.

Annual Historic Speeder Ride
Saturday, April 18
9:30, 10:30, 11:30 a.m.
2 p.m. and 3 p.m.
Niles Station
37001 Mission Blvd., Fremont
(408) 249 2953

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