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June 3, 2014 > All aboard for Steamfest

All aboard for Steamfest

By Mauricio Segura

The history and allure of the railroad has been kept alive and well in the Tri-City region, thanks to the Niles Canyon Railway. Since establishment of the original transcontinental railroad in 1869, followed by the Central Pacific Railroad as the final leg to the Bay Area through Niles Canyon, local rail lines have been the foundation of development of southern East Bay cities. For over 80 years Niles Canyon served as a destination point for tourists, immigrants, and suppliers through Southern Pacific until 1984 when operations ceased and the land was deeded to Alameda County. Three years later, the Pacific Locomotive Association, with the help of dedicated volunteers, began a year-long reconstruction of the rail line from Niles to Sunol. Once again passenger trains traveled the route. Today, the Niles Canyon Railway is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is one of the most visited East Bay attractions.

ÒSteamfest 2014,Ó held between Saturday, June 7 and Sunday, June 15, is an exciting celebration for young and old alike. It will be a time for seasoned train lovers to pass on their passion to younger riders, and for all to experience an integral part of passenger transportation for over 100 years.

Five steam engines (two borrowed from other railways just for the occasion) will take travelers on one and a half hour round-trip runs from Niles to Sunol. The Quincy Railroad #2 is a 1924 steam engine built in New York. Its main job was hauling freight, operating for its entire career from Quincy, California as a connector to the Western Pacific Railroad. The Robert Dollar #3 was also built in New York in 1927. It is reportedly the last wood-burning locomotive built for use in the United States, operated in Cottage Grove, Oregon transporting lumber. The Clover Valley #4 was built in 1924 for the Feather River Lumbar Company of Loyalton, California and in later years for the Tahoe Timber Company of Verdi, Nevada.

One of two visiting steamers is the Mason County #7. She is from 1910, built in Pennsylvania for the Black Hills and Northwestern Railroad Mason County Logging Company, Shelton, Washington. The final beauty is the Santa Cruz Portland Cement Co. #2 from 1909. Affectionately known as "The Chiggen," this locomotive served as a billboard for a fried chicken restaurant for over 30 years. During Steamfest 2014, she and the other four majestic steam engines will be chugging up and down the canyon providing delightful experiences for all on board.

Special railfan/photographer trains will run during scheduled weekdays, allowing passengers to experience great up close photo opportunities. Each train ride will take approximately three hours; passengers can disembark at various sections of the route to take pictures. Each day will feature a different engine, but with only three of these excursions and limited seating, tickets are going fast.

ÒSteamfestÓ is held every two to three years since it is a complex and expensive venture. ÒIt costs approximately $25,000 to ship the trains and their crew down for the ÔSteamfest,ÕÓ says station agent Jim Evans. ÒYou can't simply get them down here by rail, ironically, but instead on the bed of a big rig truck. Either way, its well worth it and the visitors get a great experience out of it.Ó

Take your entire family to Niles and enjoy a trip back in time through beautiful Niles Canyon.

Tickets for Daylight Limited trains are available online; tickets for Hearst Flyer trains are only available for walk-up purchase at the Sunol ticket office. For more information, call (510) 996-8420 or visit

Steamfest 2014
Saturdays, Jun 7 & 14, Sundays, Jun 8 & 15

Daylight Limited:
10:20 a.m., 11:20 a.m., 12:20 p.m., 1:20 p.m., 2:20 p.m., 3:20 p.m.
Niles Station
37001 Mission Blvd, Fremont

Daylight Limited:
10:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m. 12:30 p.m., 1:30 p.m., 2:30 p.m., 3:30 p.m.
Hearst Flyer:
10:40 a.m., 11:40 a.m., 12:40 p.m., 1:40 p.m., 2:40 p.m., 3:40 p.m.
Sunol Station
6 Kilkare Rd, Sunol
(510) 996-8420
Tickets: adults $25, seniors (62+) $20, children (3+) $10

Railfan/Photographer Trains:
Loggers Special
Monday, Jun 9
9:30 a.m.
Mixed Freights
Thursday, Jun 12
9:30 a.m.
Quintuple Header
Friday, Jun 13
10:30 a.m.
Sunol Station
6 Kilkare Rd, Sunol
(510) 996-8420
Tickets: $60 each

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