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April 22, 2011 > Speeding down the rails

Speeding down the rails

By Mauricio Segura

We've all done it. We've gone to places like Disneyland, Six Flags, or Great America and spent up to an hour or more waiting in line to fulfill a lust for speed and excitement courtesy of our favorite roller coaster. Finally reaching the front of the line, the train pulls in, lap bars rise, and we sit with a smile of anticipation for the G-forces to have their way. Minutes later we find ourselves back where we started. As the lap bars lift, the question answered is whether or not the wait was worth it.

Now, thanks to the Pacific Railcar Operators and Niles Canyon Railway, locals will have a chance to experience the ultimate rail-based thrill ride. Better yet, it's not just 90 seconds of amusement, but a whole 45 minutes of non-stop speed on the rails.

"Speeders" is the word. And what exactly are they? Niles Canyon Railway agent and speeder owner/operator Al McCracken explains, "Speeders are old-time workmen motorcars that transported railroad crews up and down the rails to inspect and repair them. In recent years, they were replaced by modern pickup trucks fitted with rail wheels known as hi-rails. As the speeders were taken out of service, they were either sold as scrap or auctioned off to private collectors. It was us collectors who have restored the speeders and now rent railways and go caravanning up and down them."

Speeders are not displayed publicly; it's rare for the general public to see them, let alone get a chance to ride in them, making this a special opportunity.

The allure of speeders is the fact that they sit very close to the ground. And although they travel at top speeds of 20 miles per hour, they create the effect of speeds of 50 mph. Cars vary in size, some carrying one to two passengers, while others can carry up to seven. "A special treat at this Niles event," added McCracken, "is the addition of two 1927 Sheffield Velocipedes people can ride. These are the original hand-pump railcars, which are very rarely loaned out to be used by the general public."

This unusual event, held only three times during the last five years, will take place on April 30th at the Niles Depot. Prices are $25 for adults and $15 for children ages 5 through 12. Tickets usually sell out prior to the event so it is recommended to call early to make reservations. All proceeds will support Niles Canyon Railway upkeep and ensure that weekend family train rides continue.

Speeder rides will leave from Niles and travel through the Canyon to Bright Side Yard in Sunol then return to Niles; an approximately 11-mile round trip. Please note that before setting foot in speeders, each person will be required to sign two waivers: one for the Pacific Railcar Operators and a second for the Niles Canyon Railway. Height and weight is not an issue, but riders are required to wear long pants and closed toe shoes.

Public speeder rides have proven to be a hit with families of all ages, so take advantage and book reservations for family and friends for a day of fun filled railway excitement. As an enthused rider once told McCracken at a previous event, "This was the longest roller coaster I've ever been on!"

Speeder Rides
Saturday, April 30
9 a.m., 10 a.m., 11a.m., 1 p.m., 2 p.m., 3 p.m.
Niles Station
37001 Mission Blvd., Fremont
(408) 249-2953

Tickets: $25 for adults, $15 children ages 5-12

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