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Stockton’s Street Runners

Stockton’s Street Runners

Railroads Illustrated 2016By Robert W. Scott/photos by the author

Fernando Galvan has had a lot of time lately to sit back and enjoy the sights and sounds of Stockton, California. Recently retired, he spends many afternoons sitting on the front porch of his Stockton bungalow-style house, admiring his perfectly manicured lawn. What makes this house different from most homes in Stockton? He has a front row seat to a local railroad — one that runs directly in front of his house on Roosevelt Street.

And using the term “directly” is no exaggeration — it is right in the middle of this quiet central Stockton neighborhood street under the shady canopy of oak trees. Stockton Terminal & Eastern Railroad uses the track in front of Fernando’s house twice daily during the week on its way to and from its Union Pacific interchange. “You get used to the train running back and forth. The interesting part is when drivers don’t know how to react when they see a train headed right at them down the street,” chuckles Galvan.

Central California Traction Co.

CCT 1790 switches out empties for loads at Pacific Coast Producers in Lodi, Calif. This industry is the largest customer in Lodi and sends out boxcars full of canned fruits and vegetables.

Stockton, with a population of slightly more than 300,000, is a railroad town through and through. It can be called a kind of crossroads of California’s San Joaquin Valley. At one time, Southern Pacific, Santa Fe, Western Pacific, Tidewater Southern, Stockton Terminal & Eastern, and Central California Traction have all called it home. The city also boasts that it is one of only two California inland seaports.

Today, Union Pacific and BNSF are the big players in town, Stockton Terminal & Eastern (ST&E) and Central California Traction Co. (CCT) still make their presence well known. It’s not unusual to hear a continual cadence of train horns hailing from all parts of the city. What is unusual is that a city of this size has not only a large Class I presence, but also has the industry and traffic base to support two robust shortline railroads. Here, UP’s main route travels down the Central Valley, BNSF links to the Bay Area, and a few tenacious local lines keep trains humming in and out of the area.

Much of Stockton’s local flavor is attributed to the short lines and how they operate within the area. Their routes, laid out more than a century ago, slice and dice their way through neighborhoods, using alleyways, private rights-of-way, city roads, and residential streets to reach their destinations.

It can be difficult at times to discern which railroad is operating on what line. For example, BNSF runs a night transfer from its Mormon Yard in Stockton using CCT’s track, dropping off cars for ST&E and picking up cars left by CCT and ST&E from the previous day’s operation.

Stockton Terminal & Eastern

Stockton Terminal & Eastern operates out of a sharp and clean engine shop on the east end of Stockton near Highway 99. Once a holdout for Alco power, ST&E is now an all-EMD-powered road with an MP15DC and an SW1200 — both sporting a smart and tidy paint scheme. ST&E was established in 1908 to provide service in and around Stockton and east to Jenny Lind, California. The railroad was in private family hands until 2011, when Colorado-based OmniTrax took over ownership of the line.

Stockton Terminal & Eastern

STE 777 rolls down Roosevelt Street on its way to the Union Pacific interchange in Stockton.

Don’t let the relatively short distance the railroad covers fool you. The diminutive 25-mile ST&E provides freight service to 30 customers in and around the Stockton area. It hauls a multitude of freight, including agricultural products, asphalt, cement, chemicals, food processing, dimensional lumber, structural steel, and fly ash. One of the short line’s largest customers is R&B Foods — a tomato sauce and paste processing facility in northeast Stockton…

Central California Traction Company

A short drive from the ST&E engine house is the Central California Traction Company. Housed in its 110-year-old carbarn in North Stockton are two of its engines that also run on CCT’s share of street trackage. It’s an odd pairing inside the cool shade of the barn, a juxtaposition of sorts. Sitting next to BL21CG genset 2101 is 56-year-old ex-Rock Island GP18 1790, both adorned in a sharp-looking red color with white nose stripes. The “90” retained its full light package, including a functional mars light, giving it a distinguished appearance.

Central California Traction Co.

CCT 1790 pauses on B Street next to Stribley Park after departing BNSF’s Mormon Yard in Stockton with a train bound for Lodi.

Unfortunately, the 1790’s days are numbered — two new gensets, delivered in the summer of 2015, will cause that unit to be retired and sold sometime in late 2016. CCT also has an extensive operation at the Port of Stockton, using SW1500s and Geeps that service more than 55 miles of industrial tracks.

CCT has a long history in Stockton, starting in 1905 by establishing a comprehensive electric streetcar and interurban line between there and Sacramento. In 1928, Santa Fe, Southern Pacific, and Western Pacific purchased the railroad. Today, Union Pacific holds two-thirds ownership, and BNSF owns the other third. Service to Sacramento was discontinued when trackage was pared back in 1998 just north of Lodi…

Railroads Illustrated 2016See the rest of this feature in the 2016 Railroads Illustrated Annual

This article was posted on: December 9, 2016