California Short Line Railroads

Published: October 21, 2022

By: Adam Burns

Arizona & California Railroad

(Reporting mark, ARZC)See Arizona.

California Northern Railroad

(Reporting mark, CFNR):  This large short line operates 261 miles of former SP trackage leased by UP from Vallejo to Los Molinos via Sacramento.  There are also a number of branches served. 

The road carries a wide range of freight including food products, stone, petroleum products, and chemicals amongst others while moving more than 26,000 carloads annually.  It was originally owned by the Park-Sierra Rail Group, later sold to RailAmerica in 2002, and G&W acquired these assets in 2012.

Central California Traction

(Reporting mark CCT):  This historic road traces its roots back to an interurban, chartered in 1905.  By 1910 the Traction had opened between Stockton and Sacramento with a branch to Lodi using a predominantly 1,200-volt DC electrified system. 

In 1946 the wires removed in favor of diesels.  Today, it operates only the line to Lodi is in service moving food, steel, lumber, and other general freight while the entire corridor to Sacramento remains in place for possible future use.

Central Oregon & Pacific Railroad

(Reporting mark, CORP):  This Class II, regional operates the Southern Pacific's former Siskiyou Line running from Eugene, Oregon to Northern California covering some 389 miles. 

It was long operated by RailAmerica before being purchased by G&W in 2012.  The road handles a wide-range of commodities and moves roughly 17,000 carloads annually.

Goose Lake Railway, LLC

(Reporting mark, GOOS):  This large short line, managed by Nexxt Rail, LLC, operates 55 miles between Lakeview, Oregon and Perez, California (Union Pacific interchange), via Alturas, California.  It operates a total of 105 miles, forming a rough "L." 

Los Angeles Junction Railway

(Reporting mark, LJL):  The Los Angeles Junction is owned by BNSF Railway and has been in service since 1923.  It provides switching/terminal service for the communities of Vernon, Maywood, Bell and Commerce near Los Angeles.  It owns in-total about 64 miles of track.

Modesto & Empire Traction

(Reporting mark, MET):  Another former interurban-turned-short line the M&ET dates back to its incorporation in 1911 where it eventually operated 5 miles from Modesto to Empire albeit the road never electrified. 

Today, this original route is still in service (altogether the M&ET serves about 40 miles of tracks, including spurs and sidings) and it move a wide range of freight including food products, wine, syrup, plastics, paper products and manufacturing commodities.

Pacific Harbor Line

(Reporting mark, PHL):  This terminal road began in 1998 from the remnants of the Harbor Belt Line (the HBL was a long-time joint subsidiary of Santa Fe, Southern Pacific, and Union Pacific) serving the Port Of Los Angeles/Long Beach. 

It is currently owned by Anacostia & Pacific and operates about 18 miles of track with a total of 59 miles.  It handles a wide rang of switching assignments, mostly involving intermodal at the ports.

Pacific Sun Railroad

(Reporting mark, PSRR) (Closed):  The Pacific Sun was Watco's first railroad subsidiary in California, which began service in 2008.  It utilized about 62 miles of leased rights over BNSF between Miramar and San Onofre with a branch to Escondido. 

Its traffic base consisted of  corn, soy, lumber, plastic pellets, beer, and other movements.  In 2020 its lease expired and BNSF resumed operation of the property.

Quincy Railroad

(Reporting mark, QRR):  This little short line serves a 3.27 terminal switching road around the town of Quincy.  It began as the Quincy & Eastern Railway during July of 1909, later changed to the Quincy Western Railway three months later. 

It was reorganized as the Quincy Railroad on November 9, 1917.  The road currently operates with an SW1200 and SW7 switcher (some of its original equipment is preserved as the Western Pacific Railroad Museum).  Owned by Sierra Pacific, it handles about 1,000 annual carloads of forest products and interchanges with Union Pacific at Quincy Junction.

Richmond Pacific Railroad

(Reporting mark, RPRC): The Richmond Pacific is a terminal line owned by the Levin-Richmond Terminal Corporation, which has been in service since 1950. 

It serves the port at Richmond as well as local nearby industries and operates about 10 miles of track with traffic including stone, ores, lumber, food products and petroleum products.

Sacramento Valley Railroad

(Reporting mark, SAV):  This short line is a Patriot Rail operation, providing switching services to the McClellan Business Park, a 3,000-acre business park located near Sacramento, California.  It currently operates about 7 miles of track, interchanging with UP and BNSF.

San Diego & Arizona Eastern Railway

(Reporting mark SDAE):  The venerable SD&AE has had a long, on-again, off-again history that once operated 146 miles between San Diego and El Centro, California where the line briefly enters into Mexico at various points. 

Originally known as the San Diego & Arizona chartered in 1906 it acquired its current name in 1933 following Southern Pacific ownership (the SP once operated a named train over the route known as the Imperial).  It sold the line in 1979 to local governments. 

Today, about 108 miles are still in use with freight service provided by the Pacific Imperial Railroad (reporting mark PIRR) between the Mexican border at a location known as Division to Plaster City, California (70 miles)

In addition, the San Diego & Imperial Valley Railroad (reporting mark, SDIY, a G&W property) provides service between San Diego and San Ysidro/El Cajon.

Santa Cruz, Big Trees & Pacific Railway

(Reporting mark, SCBG):  This operates provides both freight service and excursion trains on the former Southern Pacific between Olympia and Santa Cruz, about 9 miles, where it interchanges with Iowa Pacific's Santa Cruz & Monterey Bay Railroad.

It was originally built as the Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad, a 3-foot, narrow-gauge logging system chartered in 1874 until SP acquired the property in 1885.  Today, lumber remains the primary source of traffic.

Santa Maria Valley Railroad

(Reporting mark, SMV):  This little short line has remained independent and family-owned since it was chartered in 1911. 

Today, only about 14 miles of the original system remain in operation, connecting Guadalupe (where it interchanges with UP) as well as Santa Maria and Santa Maria Valley. 

Until 1950 the road ran as far as Roadamite (23 miles in all) but was cutback to Guadalupe at that time. It currently handles about 2,000 carloads annually including asphalt, fertilizer, food products, lumber, gypsum board (drywall), lumber, machinery, petroleum products, plastic, and scrap iron.

San Joaquin Valley Railroad

(Reporting mark, SJVR):  This short line is a G&W property operating some 417 miles of track on two disconnected sections between Bakersfield and Fresno. 

It began in 1992 under Kyle Railways ownership acquiring several former Southern Pacific branches.  In 1997 the lines were taken over by States Rail before being purchased by RailAmerica in 2002, subsequently acquired by G&W in 2012. 

Today, traffic includes petroleum products, cattle feed, building products, tomato paste, consumer products, dry and liquid fertilizer products.

Sierra Northern Railway

(Reporting mark, SERA):  The Sierra Northern was formed in 2003 through the merger of Yolo Shortline and Sierra Railroad, the latter of which was a classic short line dating back to 1897 and for many years hauled forest products. 

Today, the system operates about 105 miles of track with traffic consisting of lumber and related products, grain and related products, gypsum, wallboard, canned goods, plastics, chemicals, steel, ethanol and propane.  Tourist operations are also carried out on the Sierra Northern.

Stockton Terminal & Eastern Railroad

(Reporting mark, STE): The ST&E was originally incorporated on October 29, 1908 it was originally envisioned as an interurban but lacked the funds for electrified operation.  In 1910 it opened its main line to Bellota. 

Today, the road operates about 25 miles from Stockton to near Linden, serving various industries along the way.  Some of its current traffic includes agriculture, asphalt, cement, chemicals, food processing, lumber, and steel.

Trona Railway

(Reporting mark, TRC):  This historic road has long shipped soda ash since it was originally incorporated on March 12, 1913.  It operates 30.5 miles from Trona to Searles where it interchanges with Union Pacific.  Its current traffic, aside from soda ash, includes sulfuric acid, salt cake, coal, military equipment and minerals.

Ventura County Railroad

(Reporting mark, VCRR):  This short line is another property of G&W and operates 17 miles south of Oxnard.  It began service in 1998 under RailAmerica and currently hauls automobiles, paper, petroleum and wood pulp handling about 2,000 carloads annually.

West Isle Line, Inc.

(Reporting mark, WFS):  This private short line is owned by Western Farm Service for its operations at Alpaugh. 

It runs 5.25 miles to a connection with BNSF at Stoil and has been in service since 1998.  The primary traffic is chemicals for fertilizer, moving about 400 carloads annually.


West Oakland Pacific Railroad

(Reporting mark, WOPR):  This line was formerly the historic Oakland Terminal Railway and was renamed in 2017.

The history of the Oakland Terminal traces back to interurbans constructed at the turn of the 20th century to serve the Bay Area.  These eventually became known as the Key System around 1938. 

The freight system, known as the Oakland Terminal Railroad, was jointly acquired by the Santa Fe and Western Pacific in 1943.  It was later renamed as the Oakland Terminal Railway

The West Oakland Pacific provides switching work for its parent companies around Oakland, operating about 10 miles of track.

Yreka Western Railroad

(Reporting mark, YW):  This historic road, currently a division of Railmark Holdings, Inc., traces its history back to 1889 in Northern California.  It currently operates about 9 miles of track from Montague to Yreka where primary traffic consists of wood chips and forest products.

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